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Decision-Making

432: How Leaders Consistently Make Great Decisions with Greg Bustin

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Greg Bustin reveals his insights on decision-making gleaned from 52 inspiring historical events.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The two things you need when making a decision
  2. The Seven F’s tool that can help you decide what you want
  3. How to fight cognitive bias

About Greg

For more than two decades, Greg has been skillfully counseling a diverse roster of innovative companies. He’s a trusted advisor to savvy CEOs and key leaders—steering three executive groups and providing one-on-one coaching as a Master Chair for Vistage International, the world’s largest CEO organization.

Organizations around the world invite Greg to conduct private workshops and deliver thought-provoking keynote addresses on leadership, strategy, conflict resolution and Workplace Accountability.

He’s been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Barron’s, Financial Executive, and more.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Greg Bustin Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Greg, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Greg Bustin  
Thank you, Pete. Glad to be here.

Pete Mockaitis  
I’m glad to have you. And I think the first thing we need to hear about is your drumming career.

Greg Bustin  
Well, it started in early age. I probably started on pots and pans like most drummers, and then got a little drum set when I was six. And I was in a marching band, an orchestra, jazz band, a rock band, I’ve kind of I’ve kind of done it all. Now, I pretty much just play the steering wheel.

Pete Mockaitis
Safely, I assume?

Greg Bustin  
Oh, yeah, both hands on the wheel, in the 10 and 2 positions, right?

Pete Mockaitis  
That’s good, that’s good. Cool. Well, so I want to hear about your book, How Leaders Decide. I liked the format in terms of all the different stories, but I guess I’d like to start with a bang. What’s maybe the most surprising and fascinating discovery you made when you were putting together the book?

Greg Bustin  
Well, I ended up looking at more than 25,000 events, and you go, “Wow, how do you get it down to 52?” Because the format of the book, as you alluded to, it’s really bite-sized chapters, because the leaders that I work with, like I’m in that kind of, “Hey, I can read this in 10 minutes and reflect, and I can either put it down or keep going.”

So how did I get it down to 52, and of the 52, what’s the one you most want to know about? I think the one that’s most surprising to me is the story of Mary Edwards Walker. She is the only female recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor. So, 3,522 recipients, and she is still the only female ever to be awarded this honor, which is the military’s highest honor for bravery. And her story of bravery and courage and sacrifice took a lot of twists and turns, starting with the fact that, you know, as a woman, in the 1850s, she wanted to pursue a career as a doctor. And you know, she was told all the reasons why that wouldn’t happen.

Her parents were very encouraging, and she actually became one of the first women to graduate from medical school, and about the time she graduated, civil war was breaking out, and she wanted to volunteer. And she was turned down, not really because of her capability, but because of her gender. And ultimately, her persistence and her desire to serve landed her the position — first behind the fighting, and then ultimately she was placed on the battlefield. And from there, she even volunteered to become a spy for the North and went on some spying missions in Georgia.

And so she was awarded that in 1864. So as the war was nearing its end, she was awarded that — and it can only be awarded by presidents. And so, she made it through all the naysayers, all the bureaucracy, all the males, and eventually was awarded that. It was taken away from her, actually. It was reinstated by President Jimmy Carter.

So almost, you know, 100 years lapsed — or more than 100 years — between her receiving it, having it taken away, and then having it reinstated. And to this day, as I say, she is the only female Congressional Medal of Honor recipient. And I knew nothing about her. I just stumbled into it as I was researching the book.

Pete Mockaitis  
Well, that is deep, surprising and fascinating. I did not know this, and now I do. And so now, since we’re all teed up about, you know, this person and the story, what’s sort of the leadership decision-making takeaway from that one?

Greg Bustin  
Well, I think it’s in multiple parts. First, she did not care who got the credit, and so that she was really driven just by the desire to serve our country and help her fellow human beings. I think it’s also obviously a story of persistence. And when you look at a lot of these stories, I mean, you see that as a common theme.

My challenge in writing the book is that, “Okay, well, you can have every chapter. If they’re 50 to 60, it’s like, guess what? The lesson is persistence”, because these folks all fought their way through some adversity or another. But I think her selfless desire to serve, was a cool thing.

And you know, the lesson is, if you’re a leader, how would those people in your organization rate your fairness and consistency when evaluating performance? And the question is, do you play favorites? Mary Edwards Walker had to overcome stereotypes, favoritism, double standards, and yet she persevered and triumphed.

Pete Mockaitis  
That’s good. Thank you. Well, so then that’s one key theme that kind of weaves through the book, how leaders decide. Any other kind of main messages that you’d like to emphasize?

Greg Bustin  
Well, yes.

I think that what you’ll read in this book, many people say, “Look, I knew about the story of the Titanic,” or “I knew about Winston Churchill,” or whatever the case may be. It’s really the story behind the story that people find interesting.

I think the main message is that leaders are in the decision-making business, and all of these people, some of these were reluctant leaders, some of them just found themselves at a time and place where their integrity was confronted, their values were challenged.

And you know, what you see in the book is that essentially, these people made the decisions that they made, because number one: they were grounded in a very firm belief of understanding where they stood on issues and matters of integrity. And the other is that they also knew very clearly what it is that they wanted.

Pete Mockaitis  
Okay, that’s good. Well, so then I’d love it, maybe if we could jump into another one of what you think is perhaps the most illustrative story out of your 52 collection that really is eye-opening and transformational for the typical corporate professional who wants to just make better decisions.

Greg Bustin  
Well, I got a question at a book signing event: “What chapter would you recommend that your daughter read?” And I said, Well, I’d let her read the whole book and let her make her own decision.” And when pressed for it, I actually put another female that I had profiled: Marie Curie. And I picked Marie Curie because I think that the transformational aspect, or the applicability to today’s leader, whether they’re an aspiring leader or a seasoned leader, is that Marie Curie was raised in an environment where learning and improvement was strongly encouraged.

I mean, ultimately, her family, despite severe hardship, growing up in Russia-controlled Poland, raised a teacher, two doctors, and a Nobel Laureate. And that really speaks to the kind of environment where leaders perform well. And I think the other piece that’s transformational is that when she married Pierre Curie.

Pierre came to the conclusion that Marie’s work was actually more applicable and more important than the work that he was doing. And so, he was willing to set aside his work and become Marie’s partner. And so, if you think about that, if you’re a leader, I think that one of the ways that you’re encouraged as a leader is to be a part of a team that supports one another.

And certainly, Marie Curie had that in the form of her husband, where again, in a traditional role of typically males being the dominant force in a relationship, Pierre recognized Marie’s capability, and was willing to essentially take a backseat.

And I think that in today’s environment, having that kind of support and encouragement from your peers, your supervisor, whatever, can really cultivate and bring out the best in today’s leaders.

Pete Mockaitis  
That’s handy, certainly. So that humility and knowing when, “Okay, I’m going to take a backseat and just support them,” and that’s a winning move. Certainly, that’s a great takeaway for many environments. So I guess I’d love to hear, in terms of — you got 52 stories in here, we’ve talked about a couple of… right up front, you know, of all the suggestions that you have unearthed from these tales, when it comes to improving decision making, what do you think is the practice or approach that can offer you the greatest bang for your buck, if you will, like the most decision quality boost per hour or unit of effort?

Greg Bustin  
I think that it starts with what I’ve called seven behaviors that distinguish decisive leaders. And so one of those is believing deeply. So there’s a chapter about Walt Disney, and his brother, Roy, has a quote, “It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.” And I think that speaks loudly today. If you know what your values are, the decision should be easy. You may not like the answer, but the answer will be clear. So believing deeply is the first of those behaviors.

Secondly, confronting reality, openly. We looked at JFK and 18 months before the Cuban Missile Crisis, which is the the event that’s profiled in the book, was the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion.

And in hindsight, Kennedy realized that he had not opened up the discussion more broadly; people had been pigeonholed in in their thinking, and there was a lot of peer pressure to let the conventional wisdom of the CIA take its course. And what happened was that it ended in disaster.

And so when the Cuban Missile Crisis came around, Kennedy said, “Look, I’m learning from those mistakes. We’re going to bring in lots of people, we’re going to get fresh ideas, we’re going to bring in outside experts.” He even decided, “I’m going to leave the room sometimes, because I know that I can have an influence on people needing to say what needs to be said,” and he asked a lot of questions. And those questions were all aimed at confronting reality, facing the facts. There’s a need to cultivate curiosity.

And we talked about 3M and William McKnight, and the culture that he instilled inside of 3M, to make 3M, one of the most innovative companies in the world. There’s a notion of engaging meaningfully. And we look at the Apollo 13 crash and how these guys on the ground had to solve a problem 250,000 miles out in space with only the materials they had, and they had to bring everyone together under the crunch of time to do that.

There’s an element of deciding speedily, and then the need to adapt proactively. So all of those things, way into it. I think it really goes back to knowing what you want. And in my talk with the executives that I work with, what ultimately comes from these discussions is that it’s not as hard to achieve what it is that you want.

What’s harder than achieving what you want is knowing what you want. And so I think that before you can make decisions, again, I come back to those two things: You’ve got to know what your values are, and you got to know what you want. And I think pound for pound, that’s how you get through to get more of what you want, and how you make better decisions.

Pete Mockaitis  
Understood, yes. Great. Let’s talk about that. How does one get to know what they want? And I imagine the true depth of what you want is often not what leaps to mind off the surface?

Greg Bustin  
Well, you’re exactly right, Pete. I’ve actually got a form on my website that your listeners can download for free. It’s called “The Seven Fs.” It’s an F as in Frank.

The mind is a funny thing. Sometimes we need to let it roam freely. Other times when you let it run so freely, you’re just overwhelmed by the number of choices. And so what this seven F’s document does is it really forces people to say, “Okay, when you think about your friends, what do you want when it comes to your friends? When you think about financial? What does it look like when you talk about financial? When you think about your fitness, what does that really mean?”

When you start putting some definition around those things, “fun” is one of the Fs, right? When you when you talk about fun, you know, what does that look like? And so when you start compartmentalizing these aspects of your life, it really allows you to get more specific about deciding what it is that you want.

You know, my dad had a phrase that I loved. I mean, I was talking to him one day; it was after I’d started my own business. And frankly, I wasn’t very happy. I mean, my name is on the door, I’ve got all these people working for me, and I’m making a lot of money. I’m not happy. And he said, “Look, do what you love with people you love at a place that you love.” And what I realized is that what I was doing was, it’s like, okay, on the surface, it all looked good, but it wasn’t very fulfilling for me. And it wasn’t very gratifying for me.

And, you know, I asked him. I said, “Well, what about the money?” And he said, “Well, the money will come,” and he was right. And I think a lot of times, you know, we need a setback. Or maybe we need a shock. Or maybe we just need to take the time to reflect.

I was talking with an executive just a couple of days ago, and he said, “You know, the job that I’m in, I’m not sure I’ve trained all my life for this job. But I’m not sure that this is what I want.” And I said, “Well, what do you think you want?” He said, “Well, I’m not sure.” And I said, “Well, I would keep doing what you’re doing, and doing it the best that you can. And I do believe that over time, something will reveal itself to you.”

Just to be clear, I don’t think that you can say, “Okay, I’m going to check everything that I’m doing and go off on some wild hare.” But I think that you need to be in tune as to whether or not the amount of time that you’re putting in at the workplace is creating the kind of fulfillment that is worth the trade-off of spending time away, perhaps from your family, or a hobby, or just relaxing, or the ability to even take a vacation.

Again, I’ve got this document that’s designed to at least become a catalyst to get people to pause and reflect.

And that’s really how the book is served up. It’s not really a “do these five things, and you’ll make better decisions,” but rather, “Here are some historic events that changed the world’s trajectory. In here are some questions around each of those events that give you the opportunity to pause and reflect and think about how that applies in your life today.”

Pete Mockaitis  
I dig that. And so when it comes to your own decision making, I’d love to get your view. So I guess you’ve laid out into your core values and what you’re after, and these Fs. And so then, can you share, you know, what are some of these values and things that you want? And a decision that you approached recently that flowed?

Greg Bustin  
Yeah, that’s all well, that’s great. You’re making me eat my own dog food. And I love it. I had an opportunity. So I run these chief executive groups for small and mid-sized organizations. The smallest is probably $10 million in revenue a year, 25 employees, the largest is multi-billion, with employees, you know, all over the country, in some cases outside the U.S.

And in one of these groups, I had a couple of these CEOs that were exhibiting what I would call bad behavior. And I knew it, and I tolerated it for longer than I should. And really, the tough decision that I made ultimately was, “this is not fun for me, these guys don’t share my values.” My values are about helping people grow and learn and develop and improve. And these couple of guys were not sharing in that. And they were pretty disruptive in the meeting.

And we would get together once a month. And you know, we’re talking about 14, 15 people around a table. And finally, I just said, “Look, I’ve had enough.” And I talked to them about it, and I talked to several people: I talked to my wife about it, I talked to a couple of other folks that I trust, and the answer was consistent. It’s like , well you’ve got to do what you need to do. You already know, you just need to do it. And what I was afraid of was that they would leave and it would put the rest of the group at risk, because I knew that, you know, three or four people would leave the group.

And finally, I just said, “Look, that’s it. I know what I need to do, I just need to do it.” And that’s actually a quote that I have from Amelia Earhart: “The most difficult thing is the decision to act. The rest is merely tenacity,” right?

And so I knew what I needed to do. And I had a conversation with these two CEOs. And they left the group, and four of their friends went with them. And I thought, “Okay, this is it.”

That was about a year and a half ago. I’ve rebuilt the group, everybody’s there for the right reason. I’ve never been happier. The people who were there are all bought in on what it is that we’re trying to do. But it was a moment of truth. And I think that when you look at some of these decisions, you know, sometimes what happens is, you make the decision when the pain of doing nothing is greater than the pain of doing something, right?

So in my case, it’s like, “Look, I could keep doing this, and keep kicking the can down the road.” But I was not looking forward to those meetings. I could tell that there were other folks around the table who were not happy with that behavior. And if I didn’t do something, then I might lose the entire group. As it was, I lost half the group. And we’re better today for it. And so I think that, you know, one of the things about decision-making is that doing nothing is a decision to not act. And so that was the decision that I was choosing to make. And so finally I just said, “Okay, I know what I need to do. And I’d rather just do something and see what happens, as opposed to continuing this and not having a productive experience.”

Pete Mockaitis
I hear you. Well, not that we need all the lurid details, but I think it would be helpful if we had this little bit of a sense for what do we mean by “bad behavior.”

Greg Bustin
So there were two or three things. So there was a lot of judging that was going on with some of the folks. And so this idea is that you’re coming in here, you’re all from noncompetitive businesses, and the ideas that you can share openly, because, look, everybody generally, when it gets down to it, is talking about the same thing. You’re talking about customer issues, you’re talking about employee issues, you’re talking about money issues, and you’re trying to make your business perform at a higher level.

And you know, people would come in and open up and somebody would just kick the heck out of them, you know? And it’s like, look, it takes some level of courage to open up your heart and say, “Look, I’m scared,” or “I’m screwing up,” or “I’m not sure,” or whatever. And you know, these guys would go, “Oh, you know, well, that’s easy,” or whatever. There was also the idea that when you looked at their business, they weren’t really moving forward. And so, it was really, “Hey, let’s come in, let’s have some yucks, you know?”

“Let’s talk tough, and then let’s figure out where we’re going to go afterwards for cocktails.” And it’s like, look, that’s fine to do that. But really, our purpose here is to help each other get better. And so there were just some things like that, that were counter to the kinds of values that I was looking at, which is, “Look, let’s be authentic, let’s be honest, let’s be supportive. And let’s be all in on this,” because the money is the least of what these guys are paying. These guys are giving up.

I say, “Guys, guys and gals, are giving up a day out of their life, and they’ll never get that time back. So it’s up to me to make sure that we’re making the best use of that time.” And so it just seemed like we weren’t making the best use of that time. And it was becoming evident to some of the other folks in the group that, you know, “these sessions are starting to look like a waste of time for me.”

So anyway, those are some of the things that just say, “Okay, I’m sort of backed into a corner.” And, some of these events just happened to ordinary people, like the first female senator of the United States, got the job because her husband died. But she made the decision. And the decision that was profiled in the book was she made the decision to run again.

Nobody believed that she would run again. Hattie Caraway is the first woman to be elected a U.S. senator. So I think there’s a lot of instances where people were just living ordinary lives, and then an opportunity came their way. And they had the opportunity to step up and do the right thing. And that’s what really distinguishes a lot of these decisions.

Pete Mockaitis  
Oh yeah, that’s good stuff. I’m a sucker for stories, aren’t we? The human condition, and say, so you wisely put together 52 of them, as opposed to, you know, a list of cognitive biases and the scientific research for them, which you would make a good book for me. I’d like that.

Greg Bustin  
Well, you can write it, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis  
I have a poster of cognitive biases in my home office. Fun fact. Anyway, when you share the feedback, like, “Hey, this is what I’m seeing with regard to, you know, how the meetings are going and how you’re behaving and the implications of it.” And they just sort of stormed off. They’re like, “Well, I never, Greg!”

Greg Bustin  
No, I don’t think people like ultimatums. I think they like options. Sometimes, you need an ultimatum. And what I said to these folks is, “Look, you clearly joined for a reason, I just want to make sure that we realign on what that reason was. “Here’s what I’ve been seeing. I think you’ve got a great heart, you’ve built a successful business.”

The behavior that I’m saying is A, B, C, and D. And if that kind of behavior continues, I don’t think this is a great fit. If you want to modify that behavior, and be the kind of person that you were when you joined the group, then that’s a cool thing. And they basically said, “Okay, I thought about it, and I don’t really want to modify my behavior.” And it’s like, “Well, that’s cool, because we’re all about modifying behavior so that we can improve.”

Pete Mockaitis  
Yeah. Okay. That’s cool. All right. Well, so thanks for taking us there, into that tale. And so there you go, because you are clear on those values about learning, growth development, and you were noticing the reality around you in terms of, “This is starting to be not fun, and not enjoyable, and not helpful.” You went there. So that’s cool.

Are there any key tips, props, questions, scripts, things that are kind of little go-to tips and tricks that you use or recommend to help folks make great decisions consistently?

Greg Bustin  
Well, to be very practical, I think that you’ve got to get into a rhythm or a cadence or a habit. And I think that one of the best ways of doing that is to be very clear on goals.

I’m a big goal person, whether it’s weekly goals, or monthly goals, quarterly goals, annual goals, and I’m talking personally, as well as at an enterprise level, I think that that the people that are successful, are driven by something, and they are driven toward something. And I think that from a practical standpoint, the best way to do that is, “Hey, make a list, block time on your calendar, get some people around you that you trust, who may actually think different than you, or think differently than you so that you can bounce things off of them.”

I think that being clear on what you stand for, being clear on what you’re after, and then having these very specific mile markers in the road that show, “Hey, I’m making some progress toward this, because all of those involved decision making,” it involves, “Okay, do I do this? Or do I do this? Is it a trade off? Is it a priority? Do we have the time for this? Do we have the money for this?” Whatever the case may be.

And I think that when you have that clear picture, you’re willing to give up things or make sacrifices in order to get that.

I think the best decisions that I make are driven around having, again, a set of values and a set of goals that you’re driving toward. And I think that, you know, one of the best ways to create a new habit is to make a list. I think that is a very powerful way of doing that.

I use gold boards with just sticky notes at the end of every year. And I take my groups through this. It’s like, think about the things that are important to you, when you picture success and why you’re doing what you’re doing. What is it that you’re doing that is going to cause you to be fulfilled?

We’ll write those words down, be very specific about the type of fulfillment that you’re looking for. Now write down the categories that you need to work against, in order to make your life fulfilling, and then you put little sticky notes under that. And I mean, people love that. They’re like, we present them at the end of every year, I check up on them monthly, and they’re like, “Hey, check that off. I’ve got a new sticky note now.” And you know, whether it’s take a vacation or,, be at home three nights a week to have dinner with the kids, or whatever it is, you know, make it real and make it visible.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have any quick tips when it comes to cognitive bias, how to fight that well?

Greg Bustin
Well, I think the way you fight it well, as I’ve already alluded to, is you’ve got to have people around you that you trust and respect that are willing to say, “Look, there’s a blind spot,” or “I don’t think you’re seeing the whole picture,” or, you know, “I think that here’s another point of view that maybe you haven’t considered.” And I mean that’s what these groups that I lead are all about. And it’s about people whose only agenda is to see the other person in the group succeed.

So there’s no commercial gain for that, and the way around the cognitive bias to miss something, is to have other people around that can look at things differently. I mean, our subconscious plays tricks on us. I’m sure you know, that’s what optical illusions are all about. It’s not that I didn’t see it, it’s that the brain doesn’t get it. Right?

And so we need to have other people around us that that we trust and respect to point out those blind spots and to say, “Well, maybe there’s another way of looking at this that you’ve not considered.” And I think that when you do that, that can help at least mitigate some of the biases that we have to make decisions that aren’t always in our best interest.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. Well, Greg, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Greg Bustin  
Well, these are my favorite things, because I love what I do. I would invite your readers to go to my website.

There are five lost chapters. You might imagine with all these different historical events, I couldn’t fit them all in, and there are five lost chapters that aren’t fully baked yet, didn’t make it into the book. And your listeners can go to my website and download those for free. And then if they’re interested in wanting a little bit more than they can, they can spring for the book.
Pete Mockaitis  
All right, perfect. Well, now can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Greg Bustin  
Well, I already told you the one about my dad. The other one that I think really describes my work ethic is from J. Paul Getty, which I’m sure you’ve heard: Rise early, work hard, strike oil. It’s like, no excuses. It’s like get up, work hard, and make things happen. And I’m very results-driven. I’m very goal oriented. And that’s a favorite quote for me.

Pete Mockaitis  
And how about a favorite study or experiment, or a bit of research?

Greg Bustin  
Well, I was just taking a break from research, because I just spent about a year researching this book. I am rereading a book where the centerpiece is an essay by Peter Drucker, and it’s the title of the book, called On Managing Yourself. It’s one of Harvard Business Review’s, 10 must-read books. And it’s just a great reminder of some really practical wisdom by some of our greatest thinkers, and the leadoff hitter is is Peter Drucker.

Pete Mockaitis  
And how would a favorite tool? Something you use to be awesome at your job?

Greg Bustin  
Well, the tool that I use, I mentioned, is the goal board. I believe in that. I mean I’m a big accountability guy, and in the research that I did on accountability, which is my previous book, is that accountability is not a bad thing. It’s actually a support system for winners. One of the reasons where accountability breaks down, or one of the places where accountability breaks down, is the failure to make performance visible.

And so I believe that, you know, being able to visualize very specifically, “This is where I want to go, these are the things that I’m going to do to get it,” and then to be able to literally either take off the sticky note and put a new one up, or check it off or do it on your computer, that, to me, is very fulfilling.

And ultimately I’m driving toward, you know, something bigger than just a list. I mean, I had a list of the 52 chapters, and I blew it up, and, you know, four foot by six foot poster, and I would check off each chapter as I wrote it. And that was very inspiring to me, to say, “Okay, I’ve gotten another one down, and I’ve only got this much further to go.”

So I use a lot of visual tools, both in my computer, and you know, mounted behind my door in my office so that when I close the door, you know, there it is, and I can see how I’m doing.

Pete Mockaitis  
Awesome. And tell me, is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with readers and listeners?

Greg Bustin  
Well, I think the nugget is, when it’s time to decide, it’s time to decide. You know, things that must be done eventually must be done immediately. And so when you are not deciding, you are effectively making a decision to do nothing. And so I think that, you know, and I told you the story about that, and I did nothing for many, many months until I finally had to pull the trigger.

And so I think, you know, the idea is, again, when you know what you want, the decision should be easy. The decision was easy for me, I just didn’t want to do it. And then finally I did it. And of course I felt better.

Pete Mockaitis  
And if folks want to learn more and get in touch, where would you point them?

Greg Bustin  
I would point them to my website, www.bustin, B as in boy, U-S-T-I-N.com. bustin.com. There’s all kinds of free tools like the one I mentioned, blogs, exercises. The five lost chapters from my book are there as well, and I would love for folks to visit.

Pete Mockaitis  
And do you a final challenge or call to action for folks?

Greg Bustin  
Well, that’s fine. Yeah, the final call to action is everybody’s got a decision they need to make, and my question, really, or my challenge would be in the form of a question, which is, what’s the significant decision you must make in the next 60 days? And what do you need to do in order to make that decision? And who can you call on for support, to propel you into making that decision?

Again, most of the big decisions, it’s not as simple as yes or no. Sometimes it is, but it’s not as simple as yes or no, or this or that, or black and white. Oftentimes, there may seem, at least on the surface, a lot of gray. And so having someone that you trust, to bounce that off of whether it’s a mentor, or a coach, or a friend, or a spouse, or a partner, is a good thing.

Pete Mockaitis  
Awesome. Well, Greg, it’s been a lot of fun. I know you’re taking a break from executives right now to talk to us, so I appreciate that. You’ve got a cocktail hour calling; I wouldn’t want you to miss any more minutes of that.

Greg Bustin  
Well, I’m sure they’re starting without me, Pete, but that’s it. That’s cool. I’ve loved our time together, and I really appreciate you having me on.

431: Leadership Practices You Should Stop with Sara Canaday

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Sara Canaday highlights key places where conventional leadership wisdom needs to be replaced.

You’ll Learn:

  1. A common leadership practice you should replace
  2. Why we should value soft intelligence as much as we value hard data
  3. How the bias for action can get in the way of progress

About Sara

Sara Canaday is a leadership expert, keynote speaker, and author.  She works with leaders and high-potential professionals from organizations around the world to expand their capacity to innovate, influence, engage, and perform. Her new book, Leadership Unchained: Defy Conventional Wisdom for Breakthrough Performance, is now available on Amazon. For more information, please visit SaraCanaday.com.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Sara Canaday Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Sara, thank you so much for joining us here on How to Be Awesome at Your Job Podcast.

Sara Canaday
Thank you for having me. Glad to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to have a chat and I recall last time you mentioned that one of your dreams was to be a backup dancer in a hip-hop video. And I understand that dream is still alive. I’d like to know how that’s evolved and if there’s any particular music right now that gets that dream going for you.

Sara Canaday
Yeah, it is still alive. And I think it’s alive because it’s one way to stay loose and to not take myself so seriously. So, I think it’s important for me to keep that dream alive, actually. I think, probably, my kids, my husband and others are glad that there’s that part of me that tries to let loose a little bit and not be so serious.

So, it’s—that dream has served me well. Now, I wish I could say that it’s found me on the stage as a backup dancer not, yet but I can still hold out. And I think the last time we talked, we talked about artists like 50 Cent and Beyonce.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Sara Canaday
I should say that with a 14-year old and a 17-year old, I’m now listening to pretty heavy, rapid RnB sometimes and knowing that you might ask me this question, it was kind of a shame that I had to look and comb through an artist that I listened to that did not have an explicit song.

Pete Mockaitis
Keep the dream alive, keep it loose. That’s good.

Sara Canaday
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so, you’ve got a new development in terms of a book Leadership Unchained. I’d love to hear first and foremost, what did you find particularly surprising, striking, fascinating as you’re researching and putting together this one?

Sara Canaday
Yeah, well, I don’t know if it was confirmation bias at work here but it seemed that even after I wrote the book or while I was in the process of writing the book, I would finish a chapter, I would finish the research, put it aside. And lo and behold, I kept seeing examples of either companies or leaders, who were doing a semblance of some sort of what I just finished talking about in terms of zigging while everybody else is zagging and how it paid off for them.

And so again, it could be that I was uber open to it on a subconscious level, but I felt that I kept finding reassurances and examples for exactly what I was talking about. And that was surprising and it was exciting at the same time.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool. So, I’d love to hear an example there in terms of, what’s a zag or sort of common leadership work practice that you think is best replaced with a zig?

Sara Canaday
Well, I think one of the ones that comes for me last year because it’s not anything I had to research, it’s something that literally popped up. After I already wrote my chapter on this idea of having everything earn its rightful place to be on your to-do list, right. And the chapter is not only look at literally what makes your to do list every day, but what kind of projects, initiatives—what is consuming your calendar? And does it really belong there?

Are you doing it because it makes somebody else comfortable? Are you doing it because it’s always been done but nobody would question whether that report ever got produced? Is it moving you or your team forward? And again, in the chapter, I talked about a company that years ago looked at the number of products it was selling.

And so again, it wasn’t just a to-do list of items every day, it was on a larger scale. And in order to be profitable, they made a decision that was very, very difficult but to reduce that profit or those products from 13 down to two.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Sara Canaday
And so they had to ask themselves some really hard questions. Long story short, it ended up really working to their advantage. But what popped up several months after writing that chapter was Ford Motor, making their announcement that in North America they were going to stop making Sedans.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Sara Canaday
Which is stunning, that’s a stunning announcement, but for various reasons—but some of which meant that they sat down and they really thought about what do they need to stop doing in order to grow. And that was just a prime example to me.

Pete Mockaitis
So, are they not manufacturing Sedans in North America or they’re not selling them in North America?

Sara Canaday
They are not manufacturing them—

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Sara Canaday
Which means they no longer will sell them.

Pete Mockaitis
So, I will not be able to acquire like a Ford Taurus in a few years?

Sara Canaday
No, they are stopping production of it.

Pete Mockaitis
This is news to me.

Sara Canaday
Yep.

Pete Mockaitis
Plus learning this.

Sara Canaday
Done, over.

Pete Mockaitis
Alright.

Sara Canaday
And we don’t know, right. It’s too soon to tell, we don’t know if that’s going to be the right decision if they indeed will benefit from that decision. We’ll need a crystal ball for that. But I think it’s very telling that they’re making those kinds of moves.

And that leaders and companies, and anybody should be thinking about that. I shared with somebody the other day that two years ago, I put together my kind of business planning meeting and I invited some people that helped me with my work.

And at the time, I was friends with a colleague who was really good at facilitating strategic planning meetings and business planning meetings. And he said, “you know Sara, would it help you if I came and facilitated so that you could actually be part of the meeting and not have to do both facilitation and brainstorming or what have you?” And I said, “sure.”

Well, this man was brilliant because soon after I talked about what I was looking for the next year, what areas of my business did I want to grow? We drew a big pie circle on the whiteboard, and we put percentages of the areas I wanted my company to grow. And I was ready to talk about, “okay, what do I need to do in order to grow?” And he stopped me in my tracks. He said, “No, let’s first talk about what you need to stop doing in order to grow in these other arms of your business.” And that was the best thing he could have asked me.

Pete Mockaitis
Right on. Cool.

Sara Canaday
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a wise tidbit there, with regard to making sure everything earns its place on the to-do list and doesn’t just sort of get there.

Sara Canaday
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
Just because for another person’s expectations or a habit or an old kind of a relic of previous times, which is maybe not as relevant to do now. And that there’s power in identifying what to stop doing. So, that’s well. So, that’s one example but what’s the overall message or thesis of the book Leadership Unchained?

Sara Canaday
So, the overall message is to try to keep pace with this always on, push harder, do more world by taking some counter intuitive approaches. Because what I’ve seen in working with the leaders over the years, whether that’s workshops or speaking to groups of leaders or even coaching them, is that the conventional methods—the things that we were taught to be true, whether from bosses or from reading books—that approach to work, and to leadership is not working anymore.

And that these leaders are not necessarily getting the traction that they used to get by doing more, by following these conventional practices. So, this book is really about the need to change and disrupt the way we work, think, and lead.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, could you perhaps share some of your favorite  evidence of studies or whatnot that shows that a particular conventional method or two, ain’t cutting the mustard the way it used to?

Sara Canaday
Yeah, sure. One of my favorites is this idea of big data, right? And that’s because it’s so relevant today. And so many people think it’s just such a sexy thing, right? Big Data. And I think what’s happened is, while it’s helped us tremendously and helped with medications, new medications or new protocols, I think there are ways that we have almost let data rule our decisions.

And we are driven by the data as opposed to just valuing it and putting it in its proper place. And my favorite study, or at least evidence of how this happens is a story that I read about and then I subsequently listened to a TED Talk by a woman who was a cultural ethnographer. And her name is Tricia Wang.
[11:55]

She told a fascinating story about how she was hired in 2009 by Nokia. And they hired her to find out about a particular consumer group and at this point, that was the Chinese population, and in particular, Chinese immigrants. And to study what their preferences were in terms of smartphones.

And like, what a cultural ethnographer does, she immersed herself in their culture. She spent, I think, up to a year working in the rice paddies, she went to the local internet cafes, and observed and talked to people within that culture.

And what she found was very stunning and that was that the need or the want more importantly for an iPhone and the desire to own an iPhone was so prevalent that these Chinese immigrants were willing to spend half of what they earned in a month just to have one.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s quite the discovery.

Sara Canaday
It was a huge discovery for her. And I’m summarizing this study but—

Pete Mockaitis
For quadruple the price, you could get away with it guys, take away all their worth.

Sara Canaday
Well, what’s interesting is at the time Nokia was building high-end, multifaceted smartphones, and what she wanted them to know and what she casme back to share with the executives about her study was that they should put some of their efforts behind building a lower-end smartphone. That that’s where the market was, and that they would benefit from doing so.

Now, sadly, her small data set was compared to an extremely large data set that was more hard data, right. And they really didn’t move in that direction because they thought that her data wasn’t sufficient enough, and that it wasn’t “hard enough”.

And they did not go in that route. And we all know what happened to Nokia. Right, so, that is one example and what she submits in her TED Talk, and in her research, is that we need to value the immeasurable or what I like to call soft intelligence as much as we do the hard data.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a cool story. I guess I’m not quite following how her big discovery was that their desire for iPhone is so powerful that they’d spend half their income and therefore the recommendation was “make lower-end phones”. I think I’m missing a connecting piece there.

Sara Canaday
Yes, well, I mean, so, she—

Pete Mockaitis
… spend big money, but they don’t try to get that money, I’m not following exactly.

Sara Canaday
They would do so, right. But she knew that if they would change their strategy to make lower-end phones that even more people would buy phones.

But she was not in any way saying that they should keep building the higher-end smartphones. Because remember, these people worked in rice paddy, so even half of what they earned wasn’t necessarily enough for the product that Nokia was building at the time.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, there we go, right, that’s the missing link.

Sara Canaday
Okay.

Pete Mockaitis
I thought they were immigrants into the U.S.

Sara Canaday
No, and I should have correct that, they weren’t—I think I used the word immigrants. Migrants.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, okay, gotcha, gotcha.

Sara Canaday
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
I hear you. So, it’s sort of like, “hey, they’re willing to spend half their income but half their income isn’t cutting it—

Sara Canaday
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Therefore, if you have something at this price point—

Sara Canaday
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
… great shape because folks will spend half their income and get a great phone that has a lot of cool features but maybe not everything, and the kitchen sink, which would dwarf what they can do?

Sara Canaday
That’s exactly right.

Pete Mockaitis
So that’s a discovery that you can make when you’re going deep into immersing yourself in a culture and an environment. But that you may very well miss if you’re just looking at sort of billions of scans of retail consumer electronic transactions and what those are telling you.

Sara Canaday
Right, right. And a lot of times what I see happen is that we love to survey our customers, for example. And when we survey our customers, we rarely do so by asking open ended questions. It’s usually some sort of a Likert scale, rank us as a company on a scale of one to 10.

And we take away from that how the customer evaluates us or our products or services. But what we miss is the nuances, we don’t know why they’re rating us the way their rating us. We may not know exactly how they interpreted the question. But we’re willing to come out and make decisions based on these numeric conclusions.

And so I’m just saying, we need to balance that by getting up behind our desk. And whether it’s with customers or with employees, we need to do our own field research, right? We need to maybe observe our employees or customers in their natural habitat, using our products or services or working in our environment.

We need to maybe solicit stories from those that are impacted by our services, by our products, by the way we operate as a company. We need to make sure that we’re including like I said earlier, the soft intelligence, the human factor.

We need to be asking, what might we be missing in this data? What conversations perhaps are we not having because we’re relying solely on this data? Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
And that’s the one you used for your profile and so that really gets me. I’m right with you there when it comes to, we drive these big old decisions from these Likert scales, these numerical things when in fact, maybe, whatever, just make up numbers, 90% of folks chose a six on your seven-point Likert scale. But those people didn’t quite know what you meant by this thing and they assumed meant that thing, and therefore the six, it means nothing.

Sara Canaday
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
Because they weren’t even on the same page that you had thought and hoped and assumed that they were on. So, I’m right with you. So, tell me, what are some of the pro tips for having the best of both worlds in your decision making and research?

Sara Canaday
Well, I think one of the things you can do is if you’re going to collect data, make sure that maybe you have a way to do both quantitative and qualitative gathering, right. So, if you’re going to do a customer survey, maybe you also bring in a customer subset to then talk to you about why they rated you in certain ways, or have a focus group around some of those same types of data sets, so that you can pick up all the nuances behind the ratings. I think those are really important.

Some companies will interview potential customers at the point of purchase, so they haven’t really purchased your products or somebody else’s. But you can maybe understand what they’re using in terms of comparisons, how they’re making their decisions between you and perhaps your competitors.

If we’re looking at employees, I know that an example that was used for years is this idea of exit interviews, right? And understanding why people are leaving your company to get better informed. But how about asking people what really drove you to make the decision to come with our company? What was it about that the way we engaged you with us through this process, helped you decide to come work for us? Those are the kinds of things where we’re asking things at a much more qualitative level and not just quantitative.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s right on. Okay, so, there we go. That’s one piece of conventional practice, like the numerical, quantitative big data rule all that can lead you astray.

Sara Canaday
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
If you kind of overlook the other parts to the picture. Are there some other pieces of conventional leadership wisdom practice that can be potentially problematic, and that you would amend just as we’ve done here?

Sara Canaday
Yeah, well, the very first chapter I talk about one everybody can resonate with is this bias for action. And it’s something I prided myself on through my years in corporate, right. That I was the person that could get things done. It was somewhat …, but something I also trained myself to be very much about productivity and taking action.

And this is still a work in progress for me, but what I’ve seen is that that actual bias for action, that tendency to be always moving forward can actually get in the way, it can get in the way of innovation, it can get in the way of figuring out how to keep up with this just overwhelm of information, of being able to make good decisions in this instant response world.

So bringing this down to the individual, my discovery and my suggestion to leaders who are trying to keep pace, and for anybody who’s trying to keep pace, is that they consider making an unbreakable appointment with themselves, whether it’s daily or weekly.

And this is an appointment not—this isn’t mindfulness, this isn’t meditation, although I believe in those things. This is about just stepping back and looking at everything you’ve consumed that week, in meetings, what you’ve read, data reports, and letting that percolate.

So that you can really make meaning of what it is, you can separate the wheat from the chaff. And you can make connections where there seemingly may have not been connections before.

That is the sort of counterintuitive practice or zigging while everyone else is zagging. And in fact, what I always say is the willingness to sit still, while everyone else is in motion.

Pete Mockaitis
Gotcha, cool. Well, tell me Sara, any other key things you’d like to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear some of your favorite things?

Sara Canaday
Well, I think that the only other one that’s a again a work in progress for me, is this idea that I brought up right at the beginning, which is making sure that you put as much emphasis into what you’re not going to do, what you’re going to stop doing as much as what you’re going to start doing.

I think that’s an easy thing to do and I always encourage and challenge people that I’m working with or speaking with is to start your day tomorrow and instead of looking at your to do list, try and stop doing list. Just try it on for size, see how it feels.

Pete Mockaitis
I dig it and as you in your own life and work with clients, what are some of the things that tend to appear most frequently on stop doing lists?

Sara Canaday
One of the first things that I see a lot is that I’m going to stop endlessly checking my emails, that always bubbles up, people admit that they don’t put their emails on— they don’t close out their emails. And that that’s an incessant checking of their phone, of their social media, that they’re literally going to close off and not be tethered to those things.

The other is they’re no longer going to value themselves based on somebody else’s expectations. They’re not going to let somebody else’s expectations or I don’t know what the word is I’m looking for but they’re going to start to sort of take charge of their own calendar, if you will.

And I know that that seems hard to do, right. We’ve got people who are relying on us and that have expectations but I think there are some things we can do to drive our own calendars instead of letting somebody else do it.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely, thank you. Well, now if you will share with us a favorite quote that you find inspiring

Sara Canaday
Well, I think it’s fitting with the topic today and it’s one that was shared by Warren Buffett in one of his speeches several years ago, and it’s quite brilliant, “the chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken”. That is one of my favorite quotes.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, I believe he is correct. It’s really thought provoking.

Sara Canaday
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
It is like oh—

Sara Canaday
And he can’t take full credit for that. Apparently, he took part of a very similar quote from a gentleman named Samuel Johnson. He had read something very similar years ago, but he made it his own. Those are his words. Those are Warren Buffett’s words.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool, thank you. And how about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Sara Canaday
Well, again favorite study is one that is that I uncovered while writing this book. And it was from the Journal of Economic Psychology and it’s interesting. The researchers studied videotapes of goalkeepers and these were top Soccer League goalkeepers. And they analyzed 286 penalty kicks to determine the probability distribution of kick direction and then the responses they elicited.

In other words, what they discovered was that the optimal strategy for goalkeepers was to remain in the center of the net during a penalty kick, not moving to the left, not moving to the right. And by doing so, they had a 33% chance of blocking the ball.

But what they discovered is that these top goalkeepers only stayed in the center six percent of the time. And this study was exactly about our bias for action. And that is what was propelling them to move either to the right or to the left, the idea of doing nothing and standing still, even if they knew that it was going to increase their chances of blocking the goal didn’t work. Again, that bias took over.

Pete Mockaitis
That study is so fascinating because the notion is that you look like a moron.

Sara Canaday
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like if the goal goes in, and you stayed in the middle and moved nowhere, then like the crowd is just like eats you alive, like, “look ….”.

Sara Canaday
Right?

Pete Mockaitis
… do your job”.

Sara Canaday
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
It doesn’t quite work to your back,  “it’s statistically optimal for me to stay …”. It’s hard to argue with screaming crowd but thank you.

Sara Canaday
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Sara Canaday
This is so hard. There’re so many books that I like, I think one of the best books, it’s been years, but it’s The Big Leap. It’s by Guy Hendricks and it’s probably one that’s a cross between a business book and a personal growth book. And I think that’s why I liked it so much because I’ll either read business books or I’ll read for sure, pleasure and this one kind of had a mix of both. So, I really liked it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, thank you. And how about a favorite tool so that it helps you to be awesome at your job?

Sara Canaday
I got to say that this sounds so trite but LinkedIn. I think about what I do with that tool, like, every meeting I have, phone or in person, I can go in and I can read about that person, I can find things that we may have in common to talk about. I can appear more prepared, or in the know just by looking at some of their history or what it is they do, what their role is. So, it’s just a fascinating tool.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I’m a huge fan myself. I got the premium and I use it.

Sara Canaday
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
And … go reach out to Sara and myself on LinkedIn, listeners.

Sara Canaday
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
For me the secret password is either a boy band lyric or, “hey Pete, I like the podcast”, just to help differentiate you from the inbound sales funnel lead …

Sara Canaday
There you go.

Pete Mockaitis
That I’ve been getting more and more of lately.

Sara Canaday
Yeah, …

Pete Mockaitis
I’m sure LinkedIn is gonna find out how to crack down because they’re brilliant over there.

Sara Canaday
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Anyway, yes LinkedIn is good. We are agreed on that point. And how about a favorite habit? Something that you do that helps you to be awesome?

Sara Canaday
Oh, you’re gonna laugh, when I read this favorite habit, I didn’t look at that it helps me to be awesome. Although I guess I could find a way to argue it. This is so silly but my favorite habit is that I make my bed right when I get up every morning.

Pete Mockaitis
May be a Navy SEAL guy, he’s all about that.

Sara Canaday
Yeah, well, the reason I like that habit is because I love getting into a completely freshly made bed. There’s nothing worse than getting into an unmade bed. And so, I refuse to do it. And so, I guess I could argue that it helps me get awesome sleep, which means I could be awesome at my job.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good, thank you. And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks they quoted back to you?

Sara Canaday
When it comes to mine is when I tell people to be a renegade in their ideas and their approaches, but not in their behavior.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely, thank you. And if folks want to learn more and get in touch, where would you point them to?

Sara Canaday
I would point them to my website, Sara Canaday, or as you said, connect with me on LinkedIn or Twitter or Facebook.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Sara Canaday
I’m a circle back to what I said earlier. Get out a piece of paper or your phone and jot down one thing starting tomorrow that you’re going to stop doing.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, Sara, thanks for taking the time. This was a lot of fun.

Sara Canaday
Excellent. Glad to be here.

422: How to Make Decisions, Solve Problems, and Ask Questions Like a Leader with Carly Fiorina

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Former Chairman and CEO of Hewlett-Packard, Carly Fiorina, discusses how to solve problems, make decisions, and connect with other people like a leader.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why to choose a path instead of a plan
  2. Three steps for arriving at the wisest decision
  3. Key prompts to ensure you’ve considered all the angle

About Carly

Carly Fiorina is the former Chairman and CEO of Hewlett-Packard and a seasoned problem-solver. She started out as a secretary for a 9-person real-estate business and eventually became the first woman ever to lead a Fortune 50 company. Through Carly Fiorina Enterprises and the Unlocking Potential Foundation, Carly and her team strengthen problem-solving and leadership capacity across America. Carly is also a best-selling author. Her titles include Tough Choices and Rising to the Challenge. Her third book Find Your Way releases on April 9th. She and her husband, Frank, have been happily married for 33 years. They reside in northern Virginia near their daughter, son-in-law and two granddaughters.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Carly Fiorina Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Carly, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Carly Fiorina
It’s great to be with you. Thank you, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I discovered that you’ve recently become a podcaster yourself and apparently the backstory involves bumping into an NBA star. Can you tell us the story and what’s going on over at your show called By Example?

Carly Fiorina
Well, yes, it’s funny. I was at a conference for social innovation in Chicago in the summer of 2017. One of the speakers was Baron Davis of NBA fame and UCLA fame. Now I have to immediately say, I’m not a big basketball expert, so, embarrassingly, I didn’t even know who Baron Davis was. But half my staff was like, “Oh my gosh, it’s Baron Davis.”

I listened to him speak and I was captivated by what he had to say. He listened to me speak and apparently liked what he heard. We bump into each other literally in the lobby of the Marriot on a break from this conference. We sit down and he says, “We should do a podcast together.” I said, “Oh Baron, that would be fantastic,” because he was talking a lot about leadership and I talk about leadership.

One thing led to another and Baron Davis was our inaugural guest on the By Example podcast and also brought to us an incredible additional leader named Dino Smiley. The By Example podcast was born in the head of Baron Davis in the lobby of the Chicago Marriott in July of 2017.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Well, I am in Chicago. I’ve been to the Marriott, so I can visualize the scene nicely. That’s cool. And you’re just still chugging along?

Carly Fiorina
Well, what I was hoping to achieve with By Example based on that preliminary conversation was an opportunity to highlight for people real leaders. The reason I love doing this, first of all, I get to talk with fascinating, wonderful people, but also because I think in this day and age we are so confused about what leadership is. We think it’s position and title and fame and celebrity and it’s none of those things.

Yet, we also need more leadership. I wanted to introduce to people not just what leadership is, but who leaders are. Some of them are very famous, like Baron Davis or Colin Powell and some of them people have never heard of like Dino Smiley and yet, famous or not, leadership is always about some fundamental common elements. That’s what we talk about on By Example.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. If leadership is not that, what would you say it is?

Carly Fiorina
Well, I would say that leadership is problem solving. Leadership is changing the order of things for the better, which is always necessary to actually solve a problem. Leadership is about unlocking potential in others in order to change the order of things for the better for the purpose of solving problems.

That requires many things that all of us are capable of executing against as human being. It requires courage and character and collaboration and imagination. Some people who have position and title, lead, many people with no position and title also lead, and too frequently, people with position and title are doing many things, but they’re not leading.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Nice distinctions there. Thank you. Well, I think we could chew on that for a while, but I also want to make sure we talk about your book. Find Your Way, what’s the main message behind it?

Carly Fiorina
Well, the main message behind Find Your Way is that each of us, all of us, are capable of leadership, that finding your way in life is about solving problems that impact you and others that you collaborate with or that you care about.

And that each of us can find our purpose, each of us can practice and become adept at being courageous when we’re frightened to death, having character when it would be easier to do something that is not honest or has integrity, that we actually must collaborate with others in order to accomplish anything, and that seeing possibilities is an essential element in making things better.

That’s one huge message in Find Your Way that finding our way in life requires finding our way to leadership, not the position or the title, but the essence of leadership, which requires us to step up to the problems that surround us.

The other message is that too often people get waylaid because they invest so much in a specific plan or destination or job that they lose the path, they lose their way towards becoming a stronger, better, more effective problem solver and leader and happier on top of all of that.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. Well, could you further distinguish for us the difference between a path and a plan? You say one of the dangers is if you get too invested in the plan, could you elaborate there?

Carly Fiorina
Yeah, so I had a plan. When I graduated from college, my plan was to go to law school, which I did. Surprisingly, to me perhaps, I quickly discovered that I absolutely hated law school. The plan that I had created for my life – which my parents approved of, everyone was excited about this plan – was making me miserable, so I quit. I was definitely off plan.

More than that, I didn’t have a plan. My degree was in medieval history and philosophy, so I didn’t have marketable skills other than I knew how to type and file and answer the phones because I had worked as a temporary secretary in offices while I was going to Stanford and getting my undergraduate degree. I went to work as a secretary in a nine-person real estate firm. Totally off plan.

However, I stayed on path, which was I’m going to do a good job, I’m going to ask a lot of questions, I’m going to collaborate with others, I’m not going to be afraid to try new things, and eventually that landed me in AT&T, a company with a million people. I had no plan there either. I didn’t have an ambition to become a CEO. I was just trying to do a good job, which to me meant solving problems in front of me, which requires collaboration with others.

Some people would look at my life and say, “Wow, she became a CEO and she ran for president. She must have had a plan.” The truth is I never had a plan, but I never deviated from the path.

That is how I have found my way. I hope to share some of that experience and encouragement with people in this book because I think we hear a lot of messages from our culture and our society that you’ve got to have a plan. Further, I think we hear a lot of messages from our culture and those around us that not only do you have to have a plan, but you have to have a plan that everybody approves of.

We spend a lot of time seeking approval. In my case, I went off plan and was highly disapproved of as a result and accomplished more than I ever thought possible. The book is filled with stories of other people who have done the same.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s excellent. I’d love to hear about that sort of emotional process by which you kind of untether yourself from the need for this approval. It seems like – I’ve talked to some folks, it’s almost like they’ve never suffered from that. It’s like, “No, I’ve never cared what anybody wanted, needed, expected of me. I always did my own thing and it was just fine,” and others have struggled with it their whole lives, and others kind of had some epiphany or awakening moments to get liberated.

What do you recommend in terms of the practical tactical? If someone’s like, “I know the expectations of others has a real pull on me, I’d rather it didn’t. What do I do?”

Carly Fiorina
A couple things. First I’ll take it out of the emotional realm for a moment and put it into the practical realm. You have a wonderful podcast about how to be awesome at your job. The people who come to you for advice, while they may say they are untethered from people’s expectations for them, let me just say, all of us are susceptible to criticism.

It is, in fact, why problems fester. Problems fester, let’s just say at work, because the status quo has power. The way things are even if they’re unacceptable stays the way things are principally because when people try and change the way things are, criticism erupts, critics abound. “No, no, no, you can’t do that. No, no, no, we’ve already tried it. Who do you think you are that you can tackle this?”

The truth is all of us are susceptible to criticism and critique, especially if it comes from colleagues, even more if it comes from a boss. People can say we’re totally untethered, but, of course, none of us are.

If you want to solve a problem, if you want to solve a problem, which generally speaking is a requirement for being seen as awesome at your job or getting ahead in your job, you’ve got to bring value and that means solving problems, actually. You have to be willing to accept that challenging the status quo will cause people to criticize you, will cause people to say why they’re invested in the status quo.

I think it just starts with a fundamental recognition that to change the way things are, you have to challenge the way things are. To challenge the way things are, you have to be prepared to accept the criticism that comes with that challenge.

Pete Mockaitis
I’d like to talk about what preparation looks like in practice. I guess part of it is that you’re expecting it, you’re not blindsided by it. It’s like, “Oops, where did that come from,” but you’re sort of thinking of, “Yes, to be expected. Here is that criticism I was counting on. It has arrived.” That’s part of it.

Do you have any other approaches in terms of perspectives or self-talk or how you deal with that? You’ve certainly had your share of criticism. Running for president will bring it out in droves. How do you process it and rise above it?

Carly Fiorina
Well, I would say at a very practical level, even going back to your previous question, I would say people ought to think about three things. The first is look around. The second is ask questions and the third is find allies. If I can expound just for a moment on each of them.

Look around, one of the stories that I tell in Find Your Way is something that I learned when I was 15. I happened to be living in Ghana, West Africa. I was driving around with some friends and there were these huge termite mounds everywhere I looked. I was asking about, “Wow, this is amazing. How do these termites build these things?” Bear with me, this is relevant. Don’t get nervous.

My friend said, “Well, termites, they follow the same path day after day. They move their dirt along the same path for their whole lives.” He said, “It’s funny, but people are a lot like termites.”

What happens to us, I think, is we get very consumed by the day-to-day. We put our heads down and we move our dirt and we do our work. Sometimes it’s really important to pick our heads up and look around. What else is going on around you? Who else is troubled by this same problem perhaps? Look around. See what’s going on around you. See who is going on around you. Don’t be a termite.

Step two, ask questions. Ask a lot of questions of a lot of people, maybe those people you discovered when you picked your head up and looked around. Because when you ask questions as opposed to maybe telling people the answer, which sometimes as bosses we feel like we have to tell people the answer, sometimes the most valuable thing you can do is ask a question instead and listen to someone else’s answer. You’re always going to learn things that you can use.

The final step, find allies. As you ask questions, as you look around you, you will find people with whom you can ally yourself, with whom you can collaborate, people who will step up and defend you when that criticism comes, perhaps protect you from some of that criticism and perhaps join with you so that the group of people who are focused on solving the problem actually is bigger and more powerful than the inevitable group of people who just want to sit around and criticize but actually doesn’t want anything to change.

Pete Mockaitis
And with those allies it’s sort of like – I felt it before in terms of just being able to reconnect from time to time with a group of like-minded folks. It’s like, “Ah.” It’s like refreshing. It’s like we can all say what we really think about this thing here and you’re rejuvenated and able to keep up the good fight afterwards.

Carly Fiorina
Yes, absolutely. And I would add there’s one caution to that. We are all most comfortable with people like ourselves. We are all most comfortable with people who think like we do. If taken to an extreme, what happens is we only talk to the people that we agree with. That’s a very dangerous place to be. You can see that happening in our culture. Everyone’s sort of devolving into tribes. It can happen in a work setting as well.

Finding allies doesn’t mean only talking to people who agree with us 100% of the time. Finding allies may mean I need to work with people who also think that this is a problem that we can solve but who maybe have a very different point of view than I do or an additional perspective to share with me about how to make progress.

Pete Mockaitis
I like it. Thank you. Well, so you talked a little bit about some of the expectations, the criticism, the fear side of things. I want to get your take on when it comes to actually solving the problems or using your brain to make some wise decisions with consistency, what are some of your real go-to principles or tactics or questions that you ask yourself to be making the wisest decision more often than not?

Carly Fiorina
It’s several steps. First is I gather as much information as I can. That means talking to a lot of people. It may mean, depending on the subject, depending on the problem, it may mean meeting a lot, it may mean both.

But gathering information, that’s another way of saying pick your head up and look around. Gather information, facts, perspective, data from a variety of points of view so that you have a full picture. You can’t wing it. Particularly if you’re tackling a tough problem, you can’t go into it thinking you already know the answer.

The second step then after that perspective gathering, information gathering, fact and data gathering, is reflection. Reflection for me is very important to take the time after you’ve asked all the questions, gathered all the data, to really take the time to reflect on what you’ve learned and what you’ve heard. As you know, thinking substantially is not easy. It takes time. You need to give yourself the time and space to have that kind of thought process.

Then the final thing I would say is I get pretty analytic about it. What I mean by that is I tend after that period of gathering information, perspectives and data, followed by real reflection and substantial thinking, then I tend to get pretty analytic and explicit. I write down here’s options, here’s the pros and the cons of those options. I find it very, very helpful to be as analytical as possible and as explicit as possible.

I would say I’ve done this with all kinds of decisions, not just big decisions like a merger or how to run for president, but decisions like the care and treatment for my cancer because I think it’s easy to get mushy in our thinking, in our decision making. The more careful, thoughtful, deliberate, and intentional we can be about our reflection in our decision making, in my experience, the more successful those decisions are.

Pete Mockaitis
I’d love to get your take and some detail on the reflection step. Thinking substantially does require the time and the space. Some decisions are way bigger than others. But I’d love it if you could share, do you have any sort of rules of thumb with regard to how much thinking time, whether it’s in minutes or hours of quiet or sort of days upon which you can sit and wrestle with something that you try to allocate for yourself when making a decision?

Carly Fiorina
It’s such an interesting question. Well, the first thing I would say is honestly it does depend on the decision. There are some decisions that may require days, months of reflection. There are other decisions that require minutes or hours.

However, I would also add that finding the time for introspection and reflection is especially difficult now because everything in our culture, and technology in particular, drives us to hurry up, hurry up, hurry up, hurry up. In fact, we’ve all become accustomed, “Oh my gosh, I sent you a text. You didn’t answer me in the last five minutes.” “I send you an email. We need a decision right now, right now, right now.”

It is true that an imperfect but timely decision is usually better than a perfect but too late decision. This question of how much time is vital. However, in general, I would say hurry up and rush is always the wrong answer. The biggest step I think in finding the time is to give yourself permission to take the time. You don’t have to answer in the next 30 seconds. You don’t have to decide just because somebody else wants a decision from you.

People will have to find their way a little bit. I offer some practical suggestions, but the first and most important step is give yourself permission to take the time to find the time to reflect before you decide.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that. When you talk about being analytic and explicit, you’ve written down the options and the pros and the cons, when you said analytic and I’m thinking about tech. I’m imagining sort of like spreadsheets or criteria or weightings of the criteria and scoring of things. Are there any tools along those lines that you invoke or is it pretty much simply, hey, write down the options and then the pros and cons?

Carly Fiorina
Well, of course, I don’t mean to suggest too number intensive when I say analytic. I use and highlight in the book something called the leadership framework, which is a tool  that I have used over and over and over and over to lay out all of the aspects and the facets of a problem so that I am not missing anything as I think about how to achieve goals. I’ve used it personally. I’ve used it professionally. The leadership framework is one such tool that I talk a great deal about in Find Your Way.

The other thing I would say is another analytic tool is to be explicit about what’s wrong with the current state, whatever it is. What’s wrong with it? Let’s write it down. Let’s get clear about it. This isn’t just for an individual to think about alone in their time of reflection. It also might be extremely useful as you are asking questions of others. Why is this a problem? What could we be doing differently? Then to be equally explicitly about the future state.

The leadership framework and current state, future state analysis are tools that I have used honestly all of my life in every setting. We talk about them in more detail in Find Your Way. But what I would say is don’t let the term analytic scare you. It isn’t necessarily all numbers. In fact, sometimes it isn’t numbers at all.

But it does help to explicitly explore all facets of the situation, which is why the framework helps. It’s also extremely helpful to get very clear about why do we have a problem and why is it a problem and what would we like to be different and better?

Pete Mockaitis
Within the leadership framework that helps you ensure that you’re not missing anything, could you give us a couple of the prompts that are often super helpful in surfacing something that might be missed?

Carly Fiorina
Yeah, so for example, the leadership framework starts with what’s the problem we’re trying to solve, what’s the goal we’re trying to achieve. I know that sounds so fundamental, but you would be surprised how often people get into a room and spend hours, months, years even and they’ve never come to an agreement on what the problem is or what the goal is. Our political process leaps to mind.

But the point is, people can talk past each other forever if they don’t start with “Do we actually agree on the problem? Do we agree on the goal?” That would be an important first prompt.

Another important prompt would be who has to do what, who actually has to do what to make progress? It’s something that sometimes people forget. I’ve been in many, many rooms where people will get all fired up. Let’s say they agree on the problem.

Let’s say people agree on the goal and everybody starts talking and getting excited, and to your earlier observation, like-minded people get together and say, “Yeah, yeah, yeah we all know it has to get done.” Then they rush out of the room. Nowhere has there been an explicit conversation about okay, but who has to do what? Who’s going to do what? Are there people who are not in the room who are going to have to also sign up? That’s another prompt.

A third prompt might be, how are we going to know we’re making progress? How are we going to measure success? Is there anything that’s going to tell us we’re actually getting something done or are we just going to go back in and tell ourselves that we feel good about things? What are we going to measure? How are people going to behave? Those are some prompts around the leadership framework.

What is the problem? What is the goal really? Who’s going to have to do what really? How are we going to measure whether we’re actually making any progress really? How do we have to behave with one another and with others to continue to make progress really?

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. I get a kick out of the reallys because they really can spark another important thing when you kind of push beyond sort of the quick answer that satisfies, check the box of there’s been a response to this question, but truly addressing the root of it. I dig that.

Carly Fiorina
The other thing you know people do confuse activity for accomplishment. I think our technology encourages that actually. “Oh my God, I answered 150 emails.” Well, that may not necessarily be accomplishment, although it’s a whole bunch of activity.

One of the reasons to ask the question about really is to help ourselves distinguish between “Am I busy and active or am I actually accomplishing something, having an impact, making a difference, achieving progress?”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now I want to hear a little bit in terms of your rapid career rise. You mentioned that you stuck to the path of trying to solve the problem that was in front of you.

But I’d also love to hear if you had any sort of secret weapons or tactics or approaches that you applied day after day that really can get a lot of credit for how you managed to become the first female CEO of a Fortune 50 company. That’s pretty special. What do you think you were doing differently than many of your peers and colleagues?

Carly Fiorina
Well, I think it comes back to those three things that I said. Looking around. I always look around and see what’s going on, hear what’s going on. It’s so easy to get in a rut. Jobs are pressure-filled. None of us have enough time. We’re all more comfortable with people like ourselves. The discipline, the habit of looking around and seeing what’s going on I think has been hugely important for me.

Asking questions, asking questions. I’ve asked a million questions. I always learn something. Sometimes I learn a lot about myself by asking questions, but I always learn about the situation around me, the people around me. And what I learn helps me make further progress.

The third, finding allies. I try always to build relationships, not break them. I try to always see the good in people, not the bad. Sometimes that’s hard.

I tell the story in the book about my first business meeting with a client was in a strip club. The gentleman who created that situation did not wish me well. It’s why he created a very difficult situation for me. And yet, I came to understand, tried to understand his point of view. Why was he doing that to me? We ultimately became very strong colleagues and allies.

Finding allies takes work. It doesn’t always mean people that are naturally friendly to you or that naturally like you or that naturally agree with you. I always found allies and tried to see the best in people and to leverage the relationships that I built for a common purpose that we all could agree on.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Tell me, Carly, is there anything else you really want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Carly Fiorina
Well, I think we’ve covered a lot of ground. I’ve tried to distill all of those life’s lessons into the books, but certainly you’ve asked really penetrating questions. I’ve so enjoyed the conversation thus far.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. Me too. Now could you share with us a favorite quote, something that inspires you?

Carly Fiorina
If I have to pick one, I would pick the one I heard from my mother when I was eight years old, which is “What you are is God’s gift to you. What you make of yourself is your gift to God.” Because, for me, when I first heard that and every time I remind myself of it, it says every one of us is gifted and filled with potential. I believe that based on experience.

It also reminds us that as we are each filled with potential, not all of us get the opportunity or the chance or take the risk to fulfill our potential.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. Could you share with us a favorite study or experiment or a piece of research?

Carly Fiorina
I was in church the other day and I will not get this exactly right because the pastor brought forward this piece of research. But it was research about the power of self-talk, you used that phrase earlier, the power of self-talk among professional athletes, the power of self-talk among children.

But what the research essentially said, and again, I won’t get the citation exactly right – kudos to the pastor – but what the research says is that whether we’re 4 or 40, that we each have a tremendous ability to either help ourselves fulfill our potential or, conversely,  talk ourselves below our potential.

We have a tremendous ability to help ourselves become better problem solvers, more awesome at work, better collaborators, better leaders and we also have the power to do the opposite for ourselves.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. How about a favorite book?

Carly Fiorina
I read so much that it depends on what I’ve just read. But one of the books I’ve just incredibly enjoyed recently is actually a science book. But it is called The Fabric of the Cosmos. It’s by a physicist named Brian Greene.

It’s heavy going in some part, but to me it was an incredibly fascinating and inspiring read because not only did I learn a lot about the fabric of the cosmos, but what was most interesting to me was the collaboration of scientists, in this case physicists, over centuries, the importance of courage and taking risks for science as well as problem solving, and the incredible collaboration that’s required.

Einstein is lauded as a singular genius, but in fact, Einstein had to be inspired by many others, he had to build on the work of many others, and he had to collaborate with many others. Believe it or not, The Fabric of the Cosmos to me was not only a fascinating look at physics, but it was also a reminder of all the fundamentals of problem solving and leadership that we’ve been talking about.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. Tell me, is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with audiences or readers?

Carly Fiorina
It’s interesting. I think stories always connect with people. I try to talk in stories. Stories, my own story. I think one of the things that connects, whether it’s in my own story or in the story of a woman I met on the rooftop in the slums of New Delhi, who was living in desperate circumstances and no one’s ever heard of, but wow, she was one of the most amazing leaders I have ever witnessed.

I think the aspect of any one of those stories that connects is no one’s life is a smooth trajectory. No one’s life follows a smooth plan. Most people fall off the plan for whatever reason. Most people get thrown off their trajectory. Every life is filled with set back and difficulty, even the lives that look perfect from afar.

It is, I think, relieving to people to know that you can indeed find your way through all of the thicket of issues that each of us encounter in life and that life is not one smooth ascent. It never is.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. Well, do you have a final challenge or call to action you’d like to issue to folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Carly Fiorina
Yes. If you’re seeking to be awesome at your job, find people around you that you think are awesome. Don’t get too hung up on how awesome you are yourself. Look for other awesome people and try and leverage what makes them awesome. In the process, I think you’ll become more awesome yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. Well, Carly, this has been a lot of fun. I wish you lots of luck with the book and the podcast and all your adventures.

Carly Fiorina
Well, thank you. And the same to you.

419: Aligning Your Career with Your Definition of Success with Lizette Ojeda

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Dr. Lizette Ojeda shares her “Get It, Pivot It, Quit It” method for making career decisions, as well as a few exercises designed to help you be more aware of your core values and boundaries.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to defend against career  “shoulds”
  2. How to determine your core values when making career decisions
  3. Power questions for making career decisions

About Lizette

Dr. Lizette Ojeda is a career development expert, helping people achieve their career goals, have better work-life balance, and step up with confidence in their zone of brilliance.
She’s a Tenured Associate Professor at Texas A&M University and Licensed Psychologist and Career Strategist who teaches career counseling, conducts research on career development, has been nationally recognized for her work and has been published in Journal of Career Development, The Encyclopedia of Positive Psychology, The Handbook of Career Counseling for Women, and has helped hundreds of people achieve their career and life goals.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Lizette Ojeda Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Lizette, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Lizette Ojeda
Thanks for having me, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m super excited to dig into your wisdom. I understand one thing that you’re super excited about is skydiving. What’s the story here?

Lizette Ojeda
Oh gosh, I’m super adventurous and a lot of people don’t know that about me because I’m introverted.  But I’ve done it three times. I told my husband that I would chill on that until the kids got out of the house just in case there are any broken bones or bruises or blood involved. But when you’re up here, the exhilaration, the excitement of seeing the world from a whole different perspective, and the silence, it’s just an awe-inspiring moment for me. I just love it.

Pete Mockaitis
So you’ve done it three times or how many?

Lizette Ojeda
Three times, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Three times. Yeah. I’ve done it once and I thought it was awesome. I’d like to go again. I’ve heard that actually the second time can be scarier than the first. Is that your experience?

Lizette Ojeda
Well, apparently not because I did it a third time.

Pete Mockaitis
Maybe some people like the fear and then the conquering of it. I just thought it was so fun. It’s like, at last I am flying. This is what I wanted to do since I was a kid.

Lizette Ojeda
Yes. What a great way to say that you can do anything if you put your mind to it. You can be whoever you want to be.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, totally. And just there’s that sort of feeling of accomplishment. It’s awesome and it’s a thrill. But my wife also would like for me to not jump out of planes during this phase of family living and I have obliged for now. We’ll see if that needs to be renegotiated.

I also want to repel off of a skyscraper, which I understand there is an organization that does that, often collaborating with nonprofits, which just seems like a good time.

Lizette Ojeda
Wow, that sounds amazing. In Houston, where I’m at, there is a pool up on a skyscraper that has a see through bottom, so you can actually see your way down all the way to the ground. It’s pretty, pretty scary.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s wild, yeah. Cool. That’s something that’s exciting over in that world. I also want to get your take on – you’ve done a lot of different counseling and coaching for people facing career decisions and situations. I’d love it if you could kick us off by sharing what’s been the most fascinating and surprising discovery that you’ve made from all these conversations.

Lizette Ojeda
Yeah. When it comes down to it and I hear about what people want in their career, it comes down to people thinking that it’s just a part of who they are rather than an extension of who they are. The way I see it is that your career is not separate from you. It’s an extension of you. It’s how you show up in the world doing things that are within your zone of brilliance that you’re also passionate about and that is also a demonstration of who you are.

I think that a lot of times people have this idea of what a career should be and then throw into the mix of expectations of what you should be doing, whether that be internal voices in your head based on what you grew up being told or just people making suggestions to you about what path you should take.

I think it’s something that’s really personal and difficult to separate the professional from the personal because they both influence each other. When one is not doing well, the other one ends up suffering sooner or later. You just can’t separate it.

Pete Mockaitis
I agree. When you talk about some of these shoulds, could you get a little bit more specific. What are some common shoulds you hear again and again and again?

Lizette Ojeda
Let’s say if you have kids, you should be a better mom, you should bake homemade brownies. These different expectations of who you are for women based on the current things that you have going on.

You’re expected to be able to do it the time well, and that’s just not a reality and it starts to make women wonder “Is this really the path for me?” Unfortunately, even to the extreme of opting out because they don’t think that it’s possible for them to bring their whole true authentic self at work and be awesome as they are in the current stage that they’re in.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I hear that pressure and the shoulds and the expectations and feeling like you’re failing, you’re screwing up, you’re not enough, you’re not good as a professional or parent or both at the same time. Not so pleasant. I want to dig into your framework when it comes to making career decisions, when it comes to get it, pivot it and quit it, very succinct and interesting to say. Can you unpack, what are these key components?

Lizette Ojeda
Yes. What I’ve discovered is that with every move that we make, with every career decision that we’re about to make, it really comes down to one of three options. That’s either you’re going to get it, go get what you set yourself up to do, whether that be a promotion, whatever that is, whatever you have inside. You are deciding to go get it and just need to figure out what strategy, what support, what path that is.

Sometimes you need to pivot meaning you’re not going in the direction you thought you wanted to go after at all. This one can be really difficult for people because sunk cost comes into play, whether “Gosh, I put in all this effort, time, energy and this is no longer the direction that I want to take. What’s on the other side?”

It can be really scary, but they know that there needs to be a change. They’re just not sure if it should be a lateral move, changing industries or changing just positions or companies, but they know that there’s a change that needs to happen. It could also even be a change in strategy, a change in environment. But that’s mostly what’s going on there.

Then the quit it, that’s when you decide to let go of what you’re doing now. It could be recognizing that after evaluating your core values and the current phase you are in life right now and then getting really clear on what you want your career to look like long term. You decide that this isn’t it anymore.

Sometimes it might be a fancy title, that you decide to let that go, especially if it comes at the cost of your health, your sanity your family, all these other things that are really important to you, but a lot of times it conflicts when you’re not clear on what your core values are in the first place and you try to do everything and not get anything done. That’s where you have to start making some big decisions because it’s just gotten to that point where something has to give unfortunately.

Pete Mockaitis
I see. It sounds like when you’re doing your career coaching, you’re sort of looking at three very different flavors in terms of what it is we’re trying to solve for. Are we trying to solve for how do we get that thing or how do we make the best change or how do we sort of escape. Is that fair to say?

Lizette Ojeda
Yes. A lot of times the people I talk to, they feel stuck. They’re overanalyzing things, just spinning their wheels. They end up maybe making some changes, but they end up right back where they were and they don’t really get to the core underlying issue.

I walk them through this decision-making process of helping them figure out is this something you want to stick to, but maybe just not in this way. Maybe the path that you’re taking isn’t the right one for you, but the destination still is because not every destination is led by the same path, so it will look different for everyone. Instead of just giving up on something that you have your heart set on, you may be approaching it in a way that isn’t a good fit for you.

Pete Mockaitis
Tell me a little bit more about getting to sort of the core or root situation. Can you give us some examples of folks, they think the problem is one thing on the surface level, but that’s really symptomatic of something deeper? Can we see how that looks in practice?

Lizette Ojeda
Yes. For example, let’s just talk about money. A lot of times people will give it their all at work because they want a raise, for example. Let’s just go with that. But then they realize that once they got there, they’re looking down and they’re like, “Okay, now what’s next? I thought this is what I wanted and it really is not.” The money that they make no longer can compensate for the meaning that is lacking.

Tony Robbins says it really well that “success requires for you to feel fulfilled otherwise that’s your greatest failure,” if you’re successful without fulfillment. Being really clear on what success even looks like for you because you can be chasing different things that maybe are not something that you value, but that you think you should value, societal indications of what success looks like, for example.

But you have to define that for yourself and be okay with it and allow yourself to show up in this world standing strong in what you believe in. That could be really difficult especially when you have other people who maybe don’t support you.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh totally. The money example or sort of the status situation, folks might say, “Are you crazy? Why would you ever leave that job? This is nuts. I would love to be making the kind of money that you’re making or to have the influence or the control or the prestige or the whatever that you’ve got.”

Lizette Ojeda
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
But that’s not doing it for you.

Lizette Ojeda
No, and you’d be surprised how many people tell me, “Lizette, I feel so bad. Who wouldn’t love to have what I have? Who wouldn’t love to have this position? But I just feel so empty. I’m not really doing what I’m meant to do. I don’t feel like I’m contributing the way I know how.”

It comes down to this combination of just not feeling fulfilled, a lack of getting what they desire most, and then feeling like they haven’t really reached their full potential and there’s a part of them that’s withering away. There are these indicators of status and success, like you said, but it’s just – at the end of the day, research shows that money can only take you so far. Once you’ve reached a certain level, more money isn’t going to fill that void.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah, that’s right. I think that Daniel Kahneman did some research on that. I captured that number at one point and adjusted it up for inflation. It was somewhere around 85,000-ish dollars. Is that right?

Lizette Ojeda
Yes, but I would say that it also depends on where you live. It’s going to go a different way if it’s in San Francisco, for example.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh certainly. And if you have six kids or zero kids.

Lizette Ojeda
Yes, definitely.

Pete Mockaitis
I think that’s in the mix as well. But kind of the aggregate overall is in that realm. I think that having been on both sides of that number, I think there’s really some truth to it in terms of what you’re really gaining in terms of your life experience and how it’s shaped by having those dollars handy.

Okay, we talked about not falling for the shoulds when it comes to planning out your career and making those choices. What are some of your pro tips for zeroing in on what really, really, really, really, really matters most to you?

Lizette Ojeda
Yes. This is going to require some self-reflection, so thinking on how you make decisions. What patterns are you noticing? Are you noticing that you make decisions based on more self-care, for example? Are you making decisions that open up more opportunities for you to go to different conferences and present?

Your values guide your decisions, so if you don’t know what your values are, then I encourage you to work backwards. How are you making decisions? What are you deciding on and against? And what does this pattern-

Pete Mockaitis
I guess it doesn’t need to be decisions you feel good about if you’re trying to decode what’s the underlying good value there.

Lizette Ojeda
Yes, but the decisions you don’t feel good about can also be very informative.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, there you go.

Lizette Ojeda
Because that’s telling you you’re not in alignment. You’re making decisions that aren’t based on what you value most.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. If you say, “Hey, what’s a decision you felt great about?” it’s like okay, well then, that is serving a value. And “What’s a decision you felt not great about?” is a value that you have compromised. Can you maybe give us an example of how someone might work through this in terms of “Oh, hey, here’s a decision I made and here’s what that’s telling me about a value?”

Lizette Ojeda
Yes. I would ask you to pay really close attention to your reactions. Thinking, what kind of thoughts are coming to your mind as you’re making this decision. What are you feeling? Do you start to feel kind of fluttery? Do you start to feel at peace? Do you start to feel like your throat may be closing up? Figure out what your body’s signs are.

I would really encourage people to do that because that’s really going to tell you when you’re making decisions based out of maybe fear or maybe wanting to please other people or maybe feeling like an imposter. It could be so many different things. Listening to what your mind and your heart and your body are telling you is going to help you really dial in on how you make decisions and when you make certain decisions in a certain way.

Pete Mockaitis
I’d love it if you could zero in on the body part of that in terms of can you pinpoint a couple particular bodily sensations to a couple of particular messages?

Lizette Ojeda
Yes. This one’s a big one. Right by your collarbone in the middle of your neck, you’ll start to get a little red when you start to feel uneasy. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
So just look in a mirror and behold.

Lizette Ojeda
Yeah or your friend might be able to tell you that. It’s because your body is kind of preparing itself for the fight or flight, but there’s nothing to fight. It’s just all in your head because you feel like you’ve got to make the right decision and it could be life altering.

Pete Mockaitis
What else?

Lizette Ojeda
Yeah. I was talking to a client recently and she was telling me how they were forcing her to make a decision at work between two different job opportunities within the company that she needed transition … pick and she needed more time. She just couldn’t tell them that she needed more time. She felt like she had to make a decision and then she started to get sick.

That’s an indication that your body is repelling against something that you’re forcing it to do. Being able to take that information and not ignore it, because then what’s going to end up happening, you’re going to burn out, your performance is going to go down, it’s going to spill over into your personal life. It’s just going to become a huge ball of mess, so being really in tune with your body and these signs. Then responding accordingly.

There’s this fear involved there. It doesn’t have to be something that is horrific and catastrophic. How can you approach this? Decide to just go ahead and move forward with what is being requested because you understand the pros and cons and are willing to risk the consequences or just go ahead and say, “Okay, this is making me really anxious, but here’s how I can deal with it.” Either way, figure out how to take back control over the situation, how you react to it.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Excellent. I’d love it then if you can talk about some of the particular questions you really recommend folks ask themselves when they are exploring these career decisions, wither the decision is to get it or to pivot it or to quit it. What are some of the power questions you found that time and time again when folks engage them, they see good insights on the other side?

Lizette Ojeda
Yes. One of things that I want to mention of where people get stuck is that they think that decision that they make today is going to be their forever decision. That often keeps them stuck from making any decision. Thinking about “What do I want most right now?” will really help you make a decision that is in alignment with what you want most and asking yourself why do I want it.

You have to ask yourself that question until you can’t really ask anymore, kind of like saying, “Well, I want a Lamborghini,” let’s just go with that. Why do you want it? It’s not just because of that. It’s because of what it will allow you to do, who you will become, how you will feel. Asking yourself as deep as you can, “Well why? Well why? Well why do I want this promotion? Well, why do I want to work for this person instead of that person? Why?”

Then when do I want to do it. Is this the right time? Maybe it’s something that I need to table it until I’m in a different position to be able to take this on. And having the support that you need to help you make this decision because a lot of times we can stay in our head and it’s really hard for us to figure these things out unless we have some support to be able to have somebody have a more objective perspective.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good.

Lizette Ojeda
A lot of times, yeah, we make things bigger than they really are or we’re not able to see solutions that are right in front of us because it takes such an emotional toll on us to be able to make these decisions that have huge implications.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Do you have any pro tips there when it comes to finding a place of calm or peace or rationality when you’re in the grip of some of this emotional stuff?

Lizette Ojeda
This is what I do. I ask myself, “Okay, what is the worst that can happen and what do I really want to happen? How likely is the worst to actually happen?” If it’s very minimal, then I’m going to go for what I really want. If I couldn’t live with myself if what I really don’t want actually happened, then that would be something that would carry more weight.

Pete Mockaitis
Could you give us an example of what are some things that would be yeah, just kind of a bummer versus, “I cannot live with myself if this happened?”

Lizette Ojeda
Yes, okay. Okay, I’ll give you an example. My kids are in pre-K and they had a school activity. I really wanted to be there, but I also had something at university, which is where I’m a professor, so I had to pick. I decided that I didn’t have to choose either one; I could have a little bit of both. I just went to the most important part of each of those.

Being able to think it doesn’t even have to be either/or sometimes. Sometimes you can make decision where you get at least 80% of your cup filled with whatever it is that you need.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you, yeah. Can you give us some other examples of – because I’m really intrigued by this worst case scenario thinking because whenever I do it I’m like, “I don’t want that. I don’t want that either. I don’t want that either,” but it seems like you laid out an interesting distinction between there’s some things that you could not live with that occurring. What is sort of the gravity of those things?

Lizette Ojeda
Yes, okay. This just made me think of sometimes, an exercise that I tell my clients to do. It’s making a list of your must haves to haves. What are the things that you must have and what are nice to haves and what are cannot haves. Then, what are your tolerables? Then once you have all those written out then you can make checkmarks as to whatever decision you’re considering, where it falls on that table of all the different nice to haves, must haves, can’t haves.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool. Finally, I’d love to get your take on, could you maybe share with us a story of a client who just did this whole shebang in terms of they had some questions, they engaged some of the stuff that you’ve mentioned here and these kinds of ways. They reached some insights and then they went off somewhere and where they are now and how it’s going for them.

Lizette Ojeda
Yes. It’s a woman. She was in the oil and gas industry. She wanted to make a bigger impact, but was being held back because she felt like she was in a good old boys kind of network. There wasn’t a lot of opportunity for her to have more leadership and impact within her company.

What we did is like, “Okay, well, you want it. Let’s go get it. How are we going to get it? Let’s think outside the box. They’re not giving it to you, then you go get it somewhere else.” We found other opportunities outside of her job, so like being on boards on organizations in the community, being able to make an impact in that way.

She recognized that the decision she wanted to make in terms of having this part of her career fulfilled could look in different ways. As she’s working towards finding a different opportunity in terms of the job, meanwhile she can do these other things. It didn’t have to be either or, like suffer in silence and just keep doing this, but as I’m looking for something better, how can I still have this need met?

Pete Mockaitis
Lizette, do you have any final thoughts, things you really want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and talk about some of your favorite things?

Lizette Ojeda
Well, I think that it’s really important for you to think about what your career means to you because it’s not just a career; it’s a calling. It should be something that is in alignment with who you are. Figure out what exactly that looks like and how you can make that happen.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, thank you. Well, now could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Lizette Ojeda
Yes, one of my favorite quotes is that “Not every destination is led by a single path.” I love that because you can have the same destination, the same end result that you’re looking for, but it’s going to look differently when you inject your personality, when you inject your values. If you try to go down that path in a way that isn’t a good fit for you, then it’s not going to be enjoyable. When something is not enjoyable, you’re not good at it and we all want to be awesome, right, at work.

Pete Mockaitis
Right on. Certainly. Well, how about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Lizette Ojeda
Yes, okay. What comes to mind is the Premack Principle. Have you heard of it? Premack Principle, it’s one of my favorite.

Pete Mockaitis
Premack, I’m not sure.

Lizette Ojeda
It’s when work expands to fill the time you allot it. I think that this is a really interesting concept because when you are busy at work doing things you love, it’s so easy for you to just fall into this trap of doing more and more and more because you give more time to it. What I usually do so that I can be able to do all these different things is give myself a little timer. That way I can only do something for a certain amount of time instead of trying to make it perfect.

That’s something that I encounter a lot of women who feel kind of overwhelmed with all these different things that they’re doing and starting to resent their career, I tell them to just follow that principle.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. How about a favorite book?

Lizette Ojeda
Oh my goodness, a favorite book. It would have to be Happiness by Diener and Biswas-Diener.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool. Tell us a little bit about that one.

Lizette Ojeda
Yeah, he’s a big guy who does work on life satisfaction, which is also one of my areas of research, looking at what helps us feel happy in our careers and in life in general because they go together. He’s the guy who’s found some research that shows about that money thing that we talked about earlier and just looking at what factors contribute to our satisfaction with our life. It’s really interesting.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite tool, something you use that helps you be awesome at your job?

Lizette Ojeda
I would say Asana, everything is so organized in there.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh Asana, A-S-A-N-A. I thought you literally meant a sauna. …. I could do a sauna.

Lizette Ojeda
Oh that’s nice too.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like, that is a good tool. It helps to unwind a little bit. Okay, I’m with you. Asana, the task and project management application. Okay, I’m following. Thank you. How about a favorite habit?

Lizette Ojeda
Oh gosh. When you say yes to something, you automatically say no too. I have the habit before I say yes to anything, I’m like, “Okay, what do I have to say no to?” And yes, Netflix and naps count.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, noted. Is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with your clients?

Lizette Ojeda
Yes, when you know that you’re not just showing up to work as a part of something that you do, but part of something of who you are, being able to put that together with your personal life as well, so figuring out how to make that happen so that you don’t have to sacrifice either one.

Pete Mockaitis
If folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Lizette Ojeda
You can find me on DrLizette.com or on LinkedIn, just Google my name.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Lizette Ojeda
Yes, I would say that really think about where you want to go and why you want to do that, what’s holding you back and how can you get that out of your way so you can go and be awesome at your job.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Lizette, thanks so much for taking the time and sharing the goods. I wish you lots of luck in professoring and researching and teaching and coaching and all your ….

Lizette Ojeda
Thank you, Pete.

416: How to Find Insights Others Miss with Steven Landsburg

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Economist Steven Landsburg offers key questions to push your thinking beyond the obvious to generate helpful insights.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to jog your brain out of complacent thinking
  2. A common assumption that often leads people to make poor decisions
  3. Two exercises to help expand your thinking beyond the obvious

About Steven

Steven E. Landsburg is a Professor of Economics at the University of Rochester, where students recently elected him Professor of the Year. He is the author of The Armchair EconomistFair PlayThe Big Questions, two textbooks in economics, and much more. His current research is in the area of quantum game theory. He writes the monthly “Everyday Economics” column in Slate magazine, and has written regularly for Forbes and occasionally for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post. He appeared as a commentator on the PBS/Turner Broadcasting series “Damn Right”, and has made over 200 appearances on radio and television broadcasts over the past few years.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Steven Landsburg Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Steven, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job Podcast.

Steven Landsburg
Thank you so much for having me here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom and to learn about your skills with aerial silks. What’s this about?

Steven Landsburg
Well, that’s a little bit off the topic I thought we’d be talking about, but I’m happy to talk about it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, let’s warm it up a little.

Steven Landsburg
Aerial silks is like what you see in Cirque du Soleil where you’ve got a long piece of fabric hanging typically 24 feet from the ceiling, and a performer will climb on the fabric, and you wrap your body in various ways so that when you let go you fall almost to the floor, but the fabric catches you before you actually land.

Pete Mockaitis
And the crowd gasps.

Steven Landsburg
And the crowd gasps. I’m not quite as good at it as those performers you see in Cirque du Soleil, but I’ve been doing it for some years. It’s my hobby. It’s what I do in the evenings. I enjoy it a lot.

Pete Mockaitis
That is so fascinating. You’re an economics professor, and this is what you do for kicks.

Steven Landsburg
It’s a good workout. It’s less boring than most of the other things I used to do to workout, and it’s fun.

Pete Mockaitis
I guess I just wonder like where do you sign up for that? Do you see a flyer, you’re like, “Oh, cool. I’ll give this a shot.” How does one begin?

Steven Landsburg
I got into it because I’ve got a lot of friends, as it happens in Boston, who all simultaneously got excited about this at the same time, and there was a place for them to go take lessons in Boston. I live in Rochester, New York. There was no place here, so I used to do it from time to time when I visited my Boston friends. But then I was very excited after a couple of years of that when the studio finally opened up in Rochester, and I went and took a lesson. It turned out the instructors were fantastic, so I’ve been going ever since.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. I can’t come up with a brilliant segue way on the spot. We’re going to talk about mental acrobatics now. In your book, Can You Outsmart an Economist, you lay out a 100 puzzles, not just for funsies, but rather with the particular goal of training the brain to think and operate better. That sounds so cool. I’d love it if you could kick us off by sharing maybe one of the most surprising and fascinating insights you’ve gleaned from us humans and our thought processes from this puzzle creation and working process.

Steven Landsburg
Well, it’s all about thinking beyond the obvious, and it’s all about looking at human behavior that you might be inclined to dismiss as just irrational or pointless and thinking a little deeper and asking yourself, “Why are people behaving the way they’re behaving?” Try to put yourself in those shoes, try to see what kind of incentives they were facing, and try to figure out what’s really going on.

Steven Landsburg
Here’s an example. I’m a college teacher. At the end of every semester my students fill out these evaluation forms to say how they liked me, and every college teacher in the country faces the same thing.

Pete Mockaitis
And every year you nail it.

Steven Landsburg
I do pretty well actually. I’m happy to say I do pretty well. But there is very strong statistical evidence that physically beautiful teachers do better on those forms than other teachers who appear to be equally well-qualified, equally good. Systematically, the most beautiful teachers do best on these things.

Pete Mockaitis
So, now we see why you do pretty well on these. Steven, huh?

Steven Landsburg
I’m afraid I do well on these despite [crosstalk 00:03:38]. But the question is, why are students so consistently favoring the most physically beautiful professors? Now, the simple, straightforward, obvious answer is that students are a little bit shallow, and like everybody else, they are swayed by things that aren’t actually relevant, and so they’re making evaluations that are not really accurate evaluations of the teaching quality. They’re letting all sorts of other things influence them.

That’s the obvious explanation, but I think it’s the wrong explanation. I believe what’s really going in is this. Beautiful people have a lot of job opportunities that other people don’t have. Not just in modeling, not just in the movies, but in retail, in sales beauty helps in anything where you have to deal with the public. A beautiful person who chose to be a college teacher, on average, is going to be a person who gave up a lot of other opportunities in order to be a college teacher. On average, that’s going to be somebody who’s enthusiastic about college teaching and is probably pretty good at it.

On the other hand, and again speaking about broad averages here, people who are less attractive had fewer other opportunities. Maybe some of them went into college teaching because it was the only thing available to them. You would expect in any occupation, even an occupation where physical beauty doesn’t matter—especially in an occupation where physical beauty doesn’t matter—if beautiful people go into that occupation, on average they’re going to be the best because they’re the ones who gave up the most in order to go there.

As I say in the book, if you show me a lighthouse keeper with movie star good looks, I’m going to show you the world’s best lighthouse keeper because if he gave up a career in Hollywood to keep that lighthouse, he must really love lighthouse keeping. The whole idea of the book, Can You Outsmart an Economist, is to think one step deeper like that about all of the various little and big mysterious things that we see as we go through life.

Pete Mockaitis
Steven, you’ve really got me hooked and intrigued by the particular example with the beautiful professors. I think it was the Rate My Professor with the chili peppers, you know, the chili pepper havers. That seems like a very plausible hypothesis.

Steven Landsburg
Sure.

Pete Mockaitis
That could add up and explain things and make some sense. Now I’m wondering, “Hey, is it true?” I guess the way we’d maybe test that would be you have to have almost actors with the same mannerisms and vocal inflection, maybe even lip-syncing an audio.

Steven Landsburg
I cannot prove to you that this is true. As I say in the book, there are a number of puzzles here where I don’t know for sure that I have the right answer, but I think I have an answer that’s got a pretty good chance of being right and a good reason why it’s got a pretty good chance of being right. For goodness’ sake, the message is not that you should just believe me. The message is that you should try to think the same way and try to find some other explanations. Can I give you another example of the same sort of thing?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure thing. Yes. Maybe just one more tidbit on that first.

Steven Landsburg
Sure.

Pete Mockaitis
You’re right. What’s fun about it is, you’re right, we may not know it to be true, but it is teeing up a great extra question or piece of research, and I think it’s just keeping me a little bit more just mentally limber in the sense of now I’m a lot more fascinated by this question than I was beforehand, and I figure we’ve got one fine hypothesis which can very well spark additional hypotheses and in so doing, I’m just doing better thinking.

Steven Landsburg
Yes, absolutely. But there is evidence for very similar phenomena. For example, barbers. Barbers today are about exactly as productive as they were 200 years ago. It takes just as long to cut somebody’s hair now as it did 200 years ago. The equipment hasn’t gotten all that better. Nothing has changed in terms of the productivity, and yet the wages of a barber today compared to 200 years ago are 25-35 times as much. Why did that happen?

Pete Mockaitis
This is adjusted for inflation?

Steven Landsburg
After adjusting for inflation. Yes, of course. The real purchasing power of the wages is 30-35 times as much as it used to be. Why did that happen? The answer most economists believe, and we do have a lot of evidence on this, is that 200 years ago, a lot of people became barbers because there was nothing else to do. Today, people who become barbers have a lot of alternative, possible occupations. There are so many other things you can do which have gotten more productive: factory work, being a tailor, anything like that.

Steven Landsburg
The machines are so much better now. Everybody is so much more productive, and so those occupations have drawn a lot of barbers away into those other fields where there’s greater opportunity. The remaining barbers face less competition and therefore command higher wages. So as long as wages go up in some industries, that pulls up wages in the other industries even where no productivity change has happened. It does it by pulling people out of that occupation, making less competition and driving the wages up.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s also interesting that I think of barbers nowadays as like a specialty like, “If you just need your haircut, you go over to Great Clips or wherever and fork over just a few bucks.” Whereas a barber, oh boy, they’re going to get a fancy brush, and they’re going to put some foamy gel or foamy shave cream on your neck and use a straight blade. That’s the barbers I love to go to. I don’t know if barbers back in the day were more sort of commonplace with regard to, “Yeah, this is where you go for your haircut.”

Steven Landsburg
But even the guy at Great Clips today is earning 35 times what [crosstalk 00:10:05] 200 years ago.

Pete Mockaitis
No offense to the Great Clips listeners out there. But there’s the branding. It’s kind of value-oriented. It’s there. Intriguing. We’re looking beyond the obvious and practice how do we get into that habit? Are there key questions that you ask yourself? One of them was just about thinking about the incentives or underlying things. How else do you kind of jog the brain out of just complacently taking the obvious approach?

Steven Landsburg
A lot of it is thinking about incentives. A lot of it, of course, is just practice. You train yourself to think this way all the time. The world is full of little mysteries. You look around, and you train, analyze. The world is full of people doing things that I don’t understand and you train yourself to stop and ask yourself why they’re doing those things.

I’ll have more examples of that sort of thing for you later on if you want them. But in another direction, another thing I touch on a lot in the book is not taking statistics at face value but looking a little bit deeper, looking at what underlies the numbers that seem to tell a story sometimes, but when you look a little deeper they’re telling a very different story.

For example, at the University of California at Berkeley some years ago somebody noticed that the admission rate for graduate programs for male applicants was about three times as great as for female applicants even when they were equally qualified. A man applying to graduate school at Berkeley and an equally qualified woman applying to graduate school at Berkeley, the man had three times greater chance of being accepted.

You look at that statistic and you say, “Wow, that looks like discrimination.” A lot of lawyers took that seriously. They took it so seriously that the university ended up being sued for discrimination. This case ended up in court. The case fell apart when somebody noticed that the discrepancy was entirely accounted for by the fact that for some reason, at that time and place, women were consistently applying to the most selective programs and men to the least selective programs.

I’m making this up. I don’t know that it was the law school and the medical school. But the law school, let’s say, accepts almost everyone who applies, male or female. The medical school takes a tiny fraction of those who apply, male or female. They both treat everybody equally, but for some reason, men tend to apply to the law school, women tend to apply to the medical school. That’s going to cause men to be mostly accepted and women to be mostly rejected even though there is absolutely no discrimination going on.

Sometimes there is real discrimination, but in the case of Berkeley there was clearly not. Once you look at the numbers carefully, there was clearly not. The case was thrown out of court as soon as somebody realized this. However, before, a lot of lawyers made a lot of money.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. That is intriguing. I find that’s often the case with … Hey, I’ve just done this recently with my podcast data. I’ve got some Apple engagement data which will tell me what is the average proportion of an episode that gets listened to. But that is by no means a fair indicator of which episodes are the most engaging because some of my episodes are much longer than others.

Steven Landsburg
There you go.

Pete Mockaitis
So, I actually went to great lengths to come up with a fairer comparison point, which was, what percentage of listeners got to minute 25? It’s kind of what I’m using, so it’s like whether the episode was 33 minutes or 54 minutes. It’s fair enough to see was it interesting enough for you to hang out for 25 minutes?

Steven Landsburg
That sounds just right to me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you.

Steven Landsburg
I’m glad you’re doing that.

Pete Mockaitis
Likewise, with download numbers with regard to, “Hey, what are the most downloaded episodes ever?” It’s like, “Well, some of the episodes have been around longer.” They’ve had more opportunity to be downloaded, and some of them appeared during hotter streaks in which there were more total listeners listening to everything. I’ve chosen to index them to the recent episodes. But anyway, I’m right with you. Sometimes you got to dig deeper than the data on the surface.

Steven Landsburg
I won’t go into the details because I think you need a piece of paper in front of you with some numbers on it. But equally well, there are cases where you can look at statistics that seem to be clearly showing that there is no discrimination whereas, in fact, there is a lot of discrimination underlying the numbers. Again, I’ll give you some examples in the book. The numbers can fool you in either direction.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s interesting. Could you maybe walk us through some particular categories of bias or things that you’re seeing again, and again and again that can lead us to some optimal decisions?

Again, there’s the statistical stuff. There is a chapter. Again, I would hesitate to try and give these examples on the air because they involve a few numbers, and I think it helps a lot to see the numbers on the page in front of you. But there are examples in the book of simple little games that you can play where you’ve got a choice of what kind of prizes you want to be eligible for, and you can decide whether you want to play for these prizes, or decide whether you want to play for those prizes, play the game, see how things turn out.

Consistently, people prefer certain sets of prizes to others in these games. They prefer playing certain ways to playing other ways. If you allow them to play the way that the majority of people choose to play, the combination of games that they’re playing guarantees, absolutely guarantees, that at the end of the day they will lose money. They are making choices that guarantees that they will lose more money in the games they lose than they will in the games they win.

Those are the choices people instinctively make. Clearly, those are not good choices to be making. I think we can learn a little from that about how we should be more careful about the choices that we instinctively make.

Pete Mockaitis
You say we prefer certain ways. Are there a couple of summary principles that point to the nature of our instinctive preferences that can serve optimally?

Steven Landsburg
For one thing, we’re often too quick to suppose that other people are behaving irrationality when in fact they’re behaving very purposefully in ways that we don’t understand. I recently bought a Sony television set. I was surprised to discover that it’s absolutely exactly the same price no matter where I shop. I can go to Best Buy, I can go to a discounter, I can go to the internet. It’s exactly the same price everywhere except from a couple of places on the internet that are pretty skeevy-looking and where it’s pretty clear you’re never going to get your television set.

But it’s the exact same price everywhere and it turns out that the reason for that is that Sony requires all of their retailers to charge the same price. At first that might look like Sony is trying to keep the price up, but you think about that and it doesn’t actually make any sense because Sony doesn’t care about the retail price. They care about the wholesale price, and they have total control over the wholesale price. They sell the television set for $1,000 to the retailers. Why should they care whether the retailer resells it for 1,200, or 1,500, or 2,000?

It looks like Sony is just being irrational there. A person might be tempted to say, “Boy, Sony hasn’t really thought this through.” But, you know, Sony is in this business. They thought it through. You’ve got assume that they’ve thought this through, and there is a good reason for it. It turns out that the good reason is this: what they’re trying to combat is people like me, who, if the price were different at different places, I would go to Best Buy where they’ve got fantastic customer service, they’ve got all the models on the wall, they’ll talk to me for two hours about the pros and cons of the different models, and then I’ll go across town to the discounter and buy it cheaper.

The problem with that is if enough people do that, Best Buy will stop carrying the television sets, and Sony does not want that. So they’re requiring the discounter to keep the price up not because they care about the retail price, but because they care about the discounter stealing customers from Best Buy and giving Best Buy an incentive to stop offering that customer service. They care about the customer service because that makes people more likely to buy Sony.

Again, if you look at something somebody is doing, it doesn’t seem to make sense. Sometimes we have an instinct to say, “Wow, they never thought that through,” but usually, they have thought it through if it’s something that’s important to them, and then you can learn something by thinking a little deeper about why they’re doing what they’re doing.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s interesting. To go maybe meta there for a moment, we’re too quick to assume and suppose that others are behaving irrationally. I suppose that is adaptive for us because it’s just easier. There’s less energy required from our brains to be like, “Huh, that was stupid of them,” as opposed to really thinking, “Hmm, what was behind that? What could they be benefiting? What are the implications?” That’s a lot more work.

Steven Landsburg
Sure. Part of my message is that that work can be a lot of fun. People like solving puzzles. People enjoy crossword puzzles, they enjoy Sudokus, they enjoy brain teasers. You can harness that love of doing puzzles to doing this kind of puzzle. I think it does make you a little more insightful. It is a little more work, but there’s no reason that that work can’t be a lot fun.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s say that you’re at work and a puzzle presents itself. I guess I have to make an example, so we can get kind of concrete. But I want to hear your steps, or approaches or what you do for a second and a third. So let’s just say we are thinking, “You know, we’re having all of these dissatisfied customer service calls. They call and they’re not pleased with what has happened on the other end of the line. We want to fix that.” How would you begin to disentangle this and solve the puzzle?

Steven Landsburg
That’s such a broad question. It’s a little hard to answer without knowing more about the nature of the business and exactly what’s coming in on the calls. I guess I would start with listen to what they’re saying, and engage with them, ask some follow-up questions, and don’t jump to the conclusion that you understand exactly what they’re upset about. Sometimes, especially when people are upset, they’re not so good at articulating what the problem is, and so you got to slow them down and try to pin them down on the details of exactly what has made them unhappy and what could have made them happier.

Beyond that, I think so much depends on exactly all of the details that you didn’t give me in this hypothetical story, but starting by listening to people is probably always the right place.

Pete Mockaitis
I’d love to get your take when it comes to the asking and the listening. You’re right. Sometimes you don’t quite get what you want. I’m thinking about entrepreneurs who ask, “Hey, would you buy this at $20 a unit?” And people say, “Absolutely.” They say, “Well, great. I’ve got some in my car right now.” He’s like, “Oh, never mind.” What we ask of people is often not reflective of their true behaviors. Any ways around that?

Steven Landsburg
Always be trying to look beyond the obvious. What are the incentives that are driving the way people are behaving? In your case, of course, people are saying yes probably because it’s the easiest to get you to shut up.

If you stop and think about what they’re trying to accomplish, what you’re hoping they’re trying to accomplish is to give you accurate information, but they’re not interested in whether you have accurate information. They’re interested in moving onto something they find a little more interesting. Just having that level of insight into what other people are trying to accomplish will help you interpret what they’re telling you.

Pete Mockaitis
Very much. I think about that with regard to surveys where your answer could make you look bad in terms of, “Yes, of course, I recycle always,” because to admit aloud is probably even harder to do than, say, an anonymous survey that you don’t recycle, or you recycle very rarely when it’s only super convenient for you or whatever the thing may be. The incentive at play here is just not feeling like a jerk or a loser.

Steven Landsburg
Yeah, absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
So—
Go ahead.

Steven Landsburg
No, go on.

Pete Mockaitis
So then you got a bunch of puzzles in your book. I’d love it if you were so kind as to spare us from those. That would be kind of too complex without the visual aid to work with, but could you perhaps share one that we can work with auditorily alone that you think offers some pretty substantial mental expansion when you work through it?

Steven Landsburg
Okay, here’s one from the political world. Coal miners get a lot of attention from politicians. There’s a lot of pressure to make life better for coal miners to keep their wages up, to keep their working conditions better. Fast food cooks are far more numerous than coal miners. You don’t see any of that with the fast food cooks. Politicians they campaign in West Virginia, they make promises for what they’re going to do for the coal miners. We don’t see any of that for so many other unskilled occupations, which have many, many more people in them.

What is it about the coal miners that causes them to get all this attention that the other people don’t get? The answer to that question-

Pete Mockaitis
Can I try?

Steven Landsburg
Go ahead. Yeah, absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
My guess is that if you think about incentives, the politicians are receiving some election campaign money from energy companies that have a vested interest in coal being alive and well and flourishing.

Steven Landsburg
Why do they get that from the coal companies and not, say, from the restaurants?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s another layer.

Steven Landsburg
Why are the coal companies putting all that pressure on them to say, “Take care of our employees,” and the restaurants not putting all that pressure on them?

Pete Mockaitis
My knee-jerk reaction is that the fast food companies have plans to automate away many of their workers as soon as possible as I’m seeing with the McDonald’s order kiosk, but there could be any number of factors.

Steven Landsburg
This has been going on for decades, and decades and decades. The answer that most economists will give you and that I absolutely believe is the correct one is this. If politicians respond to the needs of coal companies, coal companies will benefit. If politicians help fulfill the needs of the restaurants, what will happen is new restaurants will open to take advantage of that. It’s much easier to open a new restaurant than to open a new coal mine. There’s a limited amount of places where you can open a coal mine. The coal mines are already there.

If we make life better for the coal miners and the people who employ the coal miners, the people in the coal mines will benefit. If we make life better for the restaurants and the people who are employed by the restaurants, new restaurants will spring up to take advantage of that and the benefits will be dissipated. They will spread out until the new restaurants will drive down prices of the old restaurants to the point where the old restaurants don’t benefit much anyway and therefore they don’t bother lobbying for these favors. They don’t bother lobbying for things that new entrants can come along and take a share of.

This is the same reason why all around the world, farmers get all kinds of largess from government whereas, motels, for example, do not. Farmers find it worthwhile to lobby for government favors because there’s a limited amount of farm land. They don’t have to worry about new farms cropping up in the middle of New York City. If you treat the motels well politically, new motels will open up. The old motels will suffer from the new competition almost as much as they benefit from the government benefits.

All around the world in all times what we see is that government largess is directed towards those industries that it is difficult to enter and not to the industries that it’s easy to enter. There are strong patterns of that all over the place. What we see follows those patterns just as theory predicts that it would.

Pete Mockaitis
That is thought-provoking. Hopefully, not disheartening.
I was listening to this podcast which was just an audiobook called The United States is Lesterland. It was all about the people who donate to campaigns. Apparently, there’s approximate the same number of people who donate to campaigns as there are people named Lester in the US. That was the analogy, and it kind of got you thinking about the incentives and how they’re aligned. It did make you feel so great in terms of government “by the people, for the people” kind of a way.

Steven Landsburg
Shall I go onto another example?

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s do it. That’s good.

Steven Landsburg
Sure.

Pete Mockaitis
We were thinking about incentives and the next layers of incentives. Let’s do it.

Steven Landsburg
Let’s move away from politics and go to something much more within the family. All over the world there are cultures where for one reason or another we have a lot of evidence parents prefer sons to daughters overwhelmingly in some places.

Pete Mockaitis
We just had a daughter, and we think she’s wonderful for the record.

Steven Landsburg
I have got my one child as a daughter. I always wanted a daughter. It was perfect. But there are many places around the world where there is an overwhelming preference for sons. What would you expect then at the adoption agencies in those places if you go to those places where people are striving for sons? When you go to the adoption agencies, who do you think gets adopted more easily, the boys or the girls?

If you didn’t think very deeply, you would expect it to be the boys. That’s what people want. They’ll go to the adoption agencies, they’ll ask for boys. The opposite is true. At the adoption agencies and those places they ask for girls. The more the boys are preferred in those cultures, the more it’s the girls who are most easily placed by the adoption agencies. What’s the reason for that?

Again, it kind of looks crazy on the surface, but if you think about the incentives people are facing, it’s pretty clear in a place where people really want boys, they will sometimes take a perfectly healthy, perfectly functioning, intelligent, cheerful girl-child, and put her up for adoption just because they don’t want a girl. It’s a very sad thing, but it happens.

Boys tend to get sent to the adoption agency only if there’s something really wrong with them behaviorally, or if they’ve got an illness or something like that. When you go to that adoption agency, you look at the kids and maybe you can’t see for sure, but if you live in that culture, you’re pretty aware going in that a lot of the boys in that agency are going to be there because they were problem children. A lot of the girls in that agency are going to be there just because they’re girls.

Even if you prefer a boy, you don’t want a problem child. You may prefer a healthy well-behaved girl to an unhealthy ill-behaved boy, even if you prefer boys. Going into the agency, you know statistically what you’re most likely to find there, and so you turn immediately to the girls.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a name for that phenomenon? There’s a reversal based upon the reaction to the incentives. There’s got to be [crosstalk 00:32:52] name for that.

Steven Landsburg
There ought to be a name for that, isn’t there? I don’t know.

Pete Mockaitis
Because I’ve heard this sort of a thing in a number of different scenarios. Well, maybe that will be your legacy, Steven.

Steven Landsburg
I’ll work on it. I don’t know.

Pete Mockaitis
No pressure.

Steven Landsburg
But again, the idea is that you see people behaving in a way you don’t quite understand, and you think a little deeper about it, and then you do understand it. It’s fun to understand things. It works not just for people but for animals. What happens if you take a big strong pig and a little weak pig and you put them in a box and you make them compete for food?

Now, economists thought about this question and made a prediction, and then the biologists did us the favor of actually taking a big strong pig and a little weak pig and putting them in a box and letting them compete for food.

Pete Mockaitis
Because they’re macabre, these biologists.

Steven Landsburg
The pigs behave exactly as the economists would predict, which might not be the way that everyone would predict. In fact, it’s the little pig who eats better, and here’s why. The little pig gets most of the food. The box is set up so there’s a food bowl at one end and a lever at the other. You got to push the lever to make the bowl fill up with food.

The little pig has absolutely no incentive to push that lever because if the little pig pushes the lever the big pig will grab all of the food. He’ll push the little pig. The little pig will come down to the bowl. The big pig will already be there and will push him aside. He will eat 100% of the food. Because of that, the little pig quickly figures out there’s no point in pushing that lever.

If the big pig pushes the lever, here’s what happens. The little pig waits by the bowl and eats most of the food before the big pig can get down there. The big pig pushes the lever and then comes running the length of the box. Once the big pig gets there, he pushes the little pig out of the way and gets the dregs, gets the little bit of food that’s left just enough to give him an incentive to keep pushing that lever.

The little pig eats most of the food. The big pig does all the work, and again, it’s perhaps the opposite of what you would have expected at first, but it’s exactly what you would expect if you took the time to think through the incentives, and it’s also exactly what actually happens in the real world.

Pete Mockaitis
That set up that totally makes sense. I guess if there was just food in the middle and there’s a free-for-all, then—

Steven Landsburg
Then the big pig would get it all.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s just sort of simple kind of pushing around factors. Steven, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear some of your favorite things?

Steven Landsburg
Well, I certainly want to mention that if anybody is intrigued by some of these examples and wants to see more, they can go to outsmartaneconomist.com. It’s all one word, outsmartaneconomist.com. They can read the first chapter of this book for free, read some reviews, and get some information on how to order the book. If you are intrigued or think you might be intrigued, go to outsmartaneconomist.com and read the first chapter and see if you like it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, sure thing. Now could you share with us a favorite quote that you find inspiring?

Steven Landsburg
A favorite quote. I’m going to go with ‘Look beyond the obvious.’ I think that’s the quote that is most appropriate to what we’ve been talking about here. Always look beyond the obvious.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite study, or experiment, or a bit of research?

Steven Landsburg
All these little stories you can tell about the way people behave and the studies that point to intriguing unusual little bits of behavior that then we can try to explain. Again, I like to look at those many, many small things rather than trying to point to one big thing.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, and how about a favorite book?

Steven Landsburg
A favorite book in any area?

Pete Mockaitis
Right?

Steven Landsburg
Let’s see. Well, I’ve just finished reading a couple of these books by Steven Pinker, the evolutionary psychologist and linguist. I find them very insightful. He thinks a lot about human behavior. He thinks a lot about what’s going on a little deeper than many people do. He’s not an economist, but he is looking at the same kinds of questions people look at; why do people behave the way they do? What underlies a lot of apparently irrational behavior? How do we explain that behavior as actually being in the best interests of the people who are behaving that way?

Steven Landsburg
The one book of his that stands out to me is called The Blank Slate. I certainly recommend that one. There are so many good books in economics. There’s a textbook by Armen Alchian and William Allen called Exchange and Production. I expect that title sounds pretty boring, but it’s actually an extremely lively book and a wonderful book to learn fantastic amounts of economics with very little formalism, very little mathematics. Just a lot of storytelling but wonderful stories. That’s another book I would encourage everyone to get a hold of.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite tool? Something that helps you be awesome at your job.

Steven Landsburg
My computer, without a doubt. I’m never without it.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Steven Landsburg
A favorite habit. I guess I have a favorite/unfavorite habit of doing that half-hour on the treadmill every morning no matter what. I hate it, but I am very happy with the fact that I have cultivated that habit. I don’t let myself miss it. I hope it’s doing some good for my health. God knows there could be a study coming out tomorrow showing just the opposite, but as far as I know it’s good.

Steven Landsburg
I think cultivating the habit of doing things that are really good for you, even when you don’t want to do them, is probably a good amount of habit.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a particular nugget that you share that really seems to connect and resonate with readers?

Steven Landsburg
That thinking is fun. Thinking a little more deeply about things not only does it make you more able to cope with the world, not only does it make you more able to make decisions better and understand other people’s decisions and interact with other people in politics, in markets, in the family, but the main the reason to think deeply about things is that you have a lot of fun along the way.

Pete Mockaitis
And your final challenge or call-to-action for folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Steven Landsburg
Buy my book.
Pete Mockaitis
Okay, right on. Steven, thanks so much and good luck to you.

Steven Landsburg
Thank you very much.